HOMILY FOR TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C. Readings: Exodus 32:7-11.13-14; Psalm 51; 1 Timothy 1:12-17 and Luke 15:1-32. HOW DO WE RELATE WITH PEOPLE THAT HAVE GRAVELY OFFENDED US? 11.09.2022.

There is a description of God in the second preface of the weekday Mass, which says, “Almighty and Eternal God, in goodness you created man, and when he was justly condemned, in mercy and love you redeemed him…” His love and mercy are far greater than our sins and in his compassion, he is ever ready to welcome and receive us back irrespective of how we have fallen and our unfaithfulness to him. He still loves and forgives us. Today’s liturgy questions our compassion, mercy and love; can we truly be like God?

In the first reading, God demonstrated through Moses that his love and mercy surpasses his anger and judgment. He called Moses and said to him, “Go down; for your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves; they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them…” (Ex 32:7-8). In the past, God addressed the Israelites as “my people” (Ex 3:7, 10), but now he refers to them as “your people,” a way to say that they are Moses’ people, the people he brought up. It is the kind of thing a frustrated parent would say to his/her spouse, “your child did this and that…” It is a sign that God has decided to disown his people who had breached the covenant relationship thus making  God to put an end to the covenant. Addressing them as stiff-necked people indicates they are stubborn and rebellious. This is often our experience when we are faced with people we love who have grievously offended us. We tend to end our relationship with them.

With this, God began to pronounce judgment on the Israelites saying, “Now therefore, let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them…” (v.10). Moses interceded on behalf of the Israelites in a very short prayer. He did not say whatever God wants to do, let him do. He pleaded with the Lord according to the nature of God. In his prayer, Moses first gave the people back to God saying, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people whom you have brought forth out of the land of Egypt with a great power and with a mighty hand?” (v. 11). He offered three good reasons why God should show mercy to the Israelites. He reminded God that he had brought these people out of Egypt; that God has a history with these people; and He has investment in their success. So God should not walk away from them so easily. In v. 12-13, Moses outlined additional reasons why God should not destroy the Israelites who had sinned. With this intercession for God to temper justice with mercy, he relented of the evil which he thought to do to his people.

In view of this, St. Paul in the second reading tells us that Christ came to save sinners, recalling how he was engulfed in sins of blaspheming, persecution and insult to Christ, and how he experienced the mercy of God because he had acted ignorantly in unbelief. Interestingly was when he said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and I am the foremost of sinners; but I received mercy for this reason…” (1 Tim 5:17). Paul admitted he is a product of God’s mercy and compassion.

Beautifully, the Gospel presents the interest of God in sinners with three parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son, known as the prodigal son. In this gospel, the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus, and the Pharisees and Scribes murmured saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (Lk 15:1-2). The grumbling of the Pharisees and Scribes stems from the fact that Christ offers table fellowship to known sinners, conferring dignity and acceptance on the undignified and unacceptable. To the Pharisees and Scribes, it was scandalous for Christ to welcome sinners and eat with them as they hold strongly the law of purity and impurity or the unclean and the righteous. For they will disassociate with the unclean, holding unto the law in Ex 18:1 “Let not a man associate with the wicked, nor even to bring him to the law.” So, for Christ to sit with those who have failed to observe the ritual and law, those who are known as sinners, was a scandalous act to them. This was the same accusation and complaining response that the Pharisees and Scribes made when Christ called a Levi and gave a banquet for him in his house (Lk 5:32). On that occasion, Christ responded, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Lk 5:32). Christ’ anointing by a sinful woman provoked similar controversy (Lk 7:36-50).

We must concede however, that the Pharisees and Scribes have their points as it is commonly said, bad company can lead to bad conduct. That’s why wise parents encourage their children to seek out wholesome friends. Also, table fellowship implies acceptance, and Christ could leave the wrong impression by eating with tax collectors and sinners. In respect to this, St. Paul says, “Don’t be unequally yoked with unbelievers, for what fellowships have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light and darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14). There is a tension here that we must honour. This story is basically about religious men, known as the pillars of the community, whose preoccupation with ritual observance has blinded them to their own sin. It is a story about men whose concern for God’s law has caused them to forget God’s love for sinners. Christ on this note calls them and calls us to love the sinners while hating the sin. He challenges us as well to have hope for repentance and calls us to celebrate the redemption of one sinner. It also draws to our consciousness those who want to be more religious than Christ or be more catholic than the Pope.

Dear friends, today’s liturgy invites us to reconcile with God, as he is ready and willing to welcome us back in spite of our unfaithfulness. He is compassionate, full of love and mercy that surpasses our sins. He is ready to make all things new. All he demands from us is to say like the prodigal son, “I will arise and go to my Father.”

Happy Sunday!

Fr. Ken Dogbo, OSJ

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