Sunday Mass: Sept. 15, 2019

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Sunday Mass: Sept. 15, 2019  Ex 32:7-11, 13-14 / Ps 51 / 1 Tim 1:12-17 / Lk 15:1-32

For the most part, we’re all pretty good Catholics.  Right? I mean, we come to Mass every Sunday. We don’t lie, cheat, or steal.  We give to the poor. And so, we deserve some recognition, right?  At least we’re not like “those heathens”...at least we’re not like “that guy.”

That is a dangerous temptation to give into.  When I consider myself as part of the ninety-nine, in no need of repentance and deserving of God’s blessings.  And yet, that’s exactly when I become most resentful, angry, bitter, and judgmental, just like the Pharisees and scribes who were complaining that Jesus welcomes and eats with sinners.  That’s exactly the same resentment that built up within the older son.  

God’s mercy and forgiveness, however, doesn’t work that way.  For God, even that one is important. Even that one who is lost is a valuable and cherished member of the whole.  

When I was a kid, I had a Batman t-shirt.  I would wear it all the time. I would only put it in the laundry when I absolutely needed to, or when my mom told me to.  And after it was out of the wash, I would find every opportunity to wear it again. Even when it was old, faded, and had holes in it, I would still wear it.  I couldn’t bear the thought of throwing away that one shirt.

If I couldn’t bear the thought of throwing away an old t-shirt, how could we ever imagine God giving up on us, we who are sons and daughters made in the image and likeness of God?  No matter how sinful and badly we’ve messed up, no matter whatever our past or present situation. No matter how lost we are, God does not tire of going after us, looking for us, and then rejoicing when we are found.  Even if we are just that one.

It actually makes no sense to leave the ninety-nine to go after just one sheep.  It seems almost worthless for the woman to look for just one coin. It seems like the younger son deserved to be punished rather than welcomed back.  Yet again, God’s mercy doesn’t work that way. That’s the resentment of the Pharisees.

In Jesus’ time, to have a flock of sheep that size meant that it probably belonged to several members of a clan.  Or, if the owner was rich enough to own all of it, he would hire a shepherd(s) to care for the sheep. Either way, the shepherd(s) were accountable for every single sheep.  And so, if one were lost in the mountainous caves or rugged terrain of first century Palestine, the other shepherds could keep watch over the rest while that shepherd goes in search of that one.  It was unthinkable for them not to go out and search for the one.

As for the one lost coin, it was more than just a penny or nickel that seems so insignificant or dispensable.  It was one drachma, which was one day’s wage. Losing one drachma meant you might not get to eat for an entire day.  So, of course, you light a lamp and flip the house upside down to search for it.

If people go all out to find a lost sheep or a lost coin, all the more reason for the father to run out looking for a lost son.  If I didn’t want to lose that Batman shirt, never would God want to lose any single one of us. That’s how relentless God’s mercy is.

But we have to acknowledge the fact that we too are that one.  Rather than being among the ninety-nine, can we consider ourselves like that one, the one that is lost and in need of being found?  And thus, rather than resentment, can we actually rejoice in being found?  

And so, if there are any of you like me, numbered not among the ninety-nine but the one, welcome home.  Take courage in the fact that more of us are actually like that one, and God rejoices in finding each and every one of us.