HOMILY FOR THE TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C ( SEPT. 11)
Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
Today’s readings are all about God’s response to our sinful nature, a response that always tempers justice with mercy. I don’t think anyone can combine these two things without having some empathy for the sinner, be it an understanding of why they acted, or simply just a great love for that person. Someone does something wrong to us. Our immediate reaction is often to see that justice is meted out. This is the black and white, eye-for-an-eye approach. It is the approach the early Bible period took because their thought had not matured to a point where they could see beyond black and white issues. You do this and you suffer the consequences!
But if we walk in another’s shoes, we gain an understanding of what led them to that sin or that behavior. We may then temper our judgment with mercy. Or if we love someone, like a son or daughter, the love alone may temper that judgment.
In our first reading, God has been so good to the Israelites. Yet, when Moses is out of their sight for a few days, they get frightened and turn to worshipping idols again. God is furious with them, but Moses tries to make God see what is happening with them through the eyes of a sinner, himself. Moses asks God to remember all the good things – how they followed Moses out of Egypt, trusting in the Lord, how they wandered the desert for 40 years, again trusting that God would make things better. God listened to Moses and through his mercy was able to pull back and change his mind about punishing them.
Similarly, in Paul’s letter to Timothy, we hear how Paul felt he should have been judged quite severely by God for his violence against Christians, for his persecution of the early church. But God tempered that with mercy because God understood that Paul “acted ignorantly in unbelief”, just as Paul says he will do with all sinners. Through his son, Jesus Christ, God has been able to empathize as well as love mankind. God was able then to use Paul as an example to other people, of how God could be merciful to great sinners.
Our Gospel is long today, and has many things we could talk about, but let’s simply look at how the father treats his prodigal son. How upsetting it must have been for the father when the son proved himself ungrateful, when he left his family behind and led a sinful, dissolute life. Many parents would be tempted to be black and white. “You treat me like this! You are cut off completely!” How many fathers do we hear of today have done that to a gay son or daughter, or dismissed a child because he sought out a profession not to his liking, or who was disrespectful to his parents, or who abused drugs, or stole money from them.
But this parent of the prodigal was, as the Scripture says, “filled with compassion” for his child. He could have resentfully taken him back, but relegated him to the other servants’ quarters. But, no, through compassion, through empathy, he was able to temper the boy’s rashness with mercy and could only rejoice that the boy had made a right decision in coming home.
The other brother had not yet matured. He still saw things in terms of black and white. He treated his father and the family badly and he should be punished for it. His behavior was very child-like – he was a pouting child!
The parables that precede the Prodigal Son story are also examples of this merciful, loving side of God. God is the shepherd that will leave his other sheep to go after the stray. God is the woman who will spend hours looking for the one lost coin.
It is interesting to note that this whole series of parables are all a result of Jesus being accused by the Pharisees of him eating and drinking with sinners. The fact that God has become one of us, and did eat and drink with sinners, shows great empathy for those sinners. God loves them, God wants them back, God will attempt anything to get that to happen, short of taking away our free will.
We might also note that many parables end with a banquet, much like the one Jesus is at. Our coming together at Mass in all our sinfulness and Godliness is the visible sign that God has connected with humanity, and that the breaking of bread is symbolic of the merciful side of God. We are today at the banquet the father prepared for the prodigal child. All we need do is ask for forgiveness, as we do in the “I confess” at beginning of Mass.
I finish with a question that continues to bother me and comes from these readings: Why are we so put off or even offended when God does something good or accepts those whom we don’t think merit it? We too need to have empathy, to walk in the shoes of those less fortunate. We need to be like God!
And this is the challenge I leave you with today from the Good News of God’s tempering justice with a healthy dose of mercy!