Twenty Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Lost and Found
- Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14. The people revolt and worship a golden calf. God threatens to destroy them and raise up a new people through Moses. At Moses’ entreaty, the Lord relented.
- 1 Timothy 1:12-17. God forgives Paul, the former persecutor of the church, to show that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners and to display patience.
- Luke 12-1-32. Jesus tells three parables about God’s joy in forgiving sinners: the man with the lost sheep; the woman with the lost silver pieces; the parent with the lost prodigal child.
Thoughts for your consideration: by John Gonzalez
With the three readings that we hear about this weekend we are given some powerful examples of the great value of finding that which is lost. With the first reading we witness an amazing interaction between God and Moses. The context for this discussion is that the chosen people have established an idol in place of God. God is obviously frustrated by this transgression but what if the object of God’s concern is not so much the people of Israel but Moses himself? After all, the fact that the people will ebb and flow from their relationship with God should come as no surprise, they have done it before and they will do it again. But perhaps God is concerned about whether they have a leader who can guide them towards the daunting task ahead. This first reading can be seen as the temptation of Moses. When considering the destruction of the chosen people God makes a tempting offer, “Then I will make of you a great nation.” What an amazing temptation, to be the father of a great nation. Moses must have given this some thought. But instead he responds with amazing compassion for a sinful people. He implores God to exhibit the same patience and compassion that he himself has for them and God relents. Could it be that God really changed his mind because of the persuasive genius of Moses? Or was God intent on seeing that Moses, as a leader, would have the patience and compassion that is required to lead the Israelite community? Moses demonstrates a great lesson for any pastoral leader. The human community is prone to sin and will push the envelope of transgressions. Those of us who are called to become leaders of this community must have an unending supply of patience and compassion to bring people back to the fold.
In the second reading Paul identifies himself as an example for us all. Here we have someone who previously not only disagreed with the Christian message but who actively persecuted the church. Paul identifies himself as the worst of all sinners and yet he tells the early Christian community: “for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life.”
The three parables that Jesus shares in this week’s gospel reading offer us three images of God’s great mercy, patience and compassion. The repentance of the lost sinner has an incomprehensible value to God. Jesus almost cannot seem to push this point enough in the first two parables, so he creates the third and more elaborate parable to capture our human imaginations. How many of us are not troubled by the response of the father as he takes in the prodigal son? How many of us cannot in some way share in the frustration of the eldest son? It seems naïve and unfair of the father to display what appears to be a preferential treatment for sinners. And yet this is the image that Jesus wants to convey to us, the image of the Good Shepherd. The Shepherd does not disvalue the other 99 sheep just as the father does not disvalue the eldest son. Their value is equal to all who share a God-given dignity. But the value of the lost one appears disproportionate because we feel that our own value is somehow lessened by the joy the discovery has brought to our heavenly father. We do not share the patience and compassion that God has for all creation.
The parable of the lost coin makes the point for me. Assuming the value of the coin is the same as the other coins in the purse, finding that lost coin does not give the coin any real greater value then all the others, but it does make the purse that much richer. If we have lost a 5 dollar bill and on another day we look in our pants pocket and find it do we not suddenly feel rich? It is still only a 5 dollar bill and its worth has not been altered at all but the fact is that we are now $5 richer then we were before.
The fact of the matter is that one way or another we are all lost. If we feel disvalued by another then we too suffer from some loss of our own personal value and juxtapose our own value system to accommodate this loss. God evaluates Moses’ own value to fulfill the divine mandate through Moses’ response to the corporate sin of the Israelites. Moses was able to see the corporate value of all the people and because of this he was able to have the patience and compassion necessary for pastoral leadership. This week’s readings challenge us to reassess the value of all humanity no matter what our judgment of any member of the human community is. Our harsh judgment of others demonstrates our own loss of dignity. God places great value on the redemption of the lost human community. The work of the pastoral leader is to bring us all back to the fold through patience and compassion. We must be directed by our pastoral leaders to exemplify mercy and compassion to all of God’s creation, no matter what our opinions of them might be.
This week our thoughts turn to the national tragedy of 9-11. There can be no doubt that this tragic event will continue to affect the conscience of Americans because of the violence that we suffered from a group that continues to demonstrate great hate for us. Our Christian challenge is to be able to still see the dignity of those who are lost within their own hate of America, and to respond to them with the dignity that arises from desiring their reconciliation with God and the human community. That is one reason why any act of social violence that destroys a human life becomes an ethical and moral problem for us Christians. It’s one thing when we have a lost soul or a lost community that is wandering and wayward because of their own ideological idols, but to deprive those souls from their hope of redemption is a moral problem. The Shepherd could have prioritized the good of the 99 sheep and left the one to die but that is not the way of the Good Shepherd.