by Fr. Tommy Lane
God’s Mercy. How extraordinary. It is difficult for some to comprehend God’s mercy because we live in a world that is not merciful. We live in a world that often acts in a way contrary to God’s mercy, a world that often does not forgive and seeks revenge. God’s mercy is so opposite to the thinking of this world. Also some people may have grown up with a distorted picture of God that did not focus on God’s love and mercy. But God’s love and mercy is precisely the cure for this world which is out of whack. This surely explains why Pope Francis instituted this Jubilee Year of Mercy (2016). The bitterness, anger, resentment and revenge in the world are destroying the world. There is a better way to live, the way of God, God’s mercy.
If we turn to God there is no sin that cannot be forgiven by God. Yes we read in Scripture about a sin that will not be forgiven but that sin seems to be something like deliberately hating God. If we turn to God in humility there is no sin that cannot be forgiven by God. It is we who put up barriers between ourselves and God’s mercy. So to receive God’s mercy we also have to allow any barrier we have put between God and ourselves to dissolve, barriers of incorrect thinking, thinking that we cannot be forgiven by God. Everyone can begin again, we do not have to remain stuck in what is keeping us from God. In Jesus, God is reaching out to us, saying to us he is waiting for us to turn to him. Jesus is always there for you.
Our scripture readings this weekend teach us about God’s mercy. In the first reading (Ex 32:7-11, 13-14) we hear about the people sinning at Mount Sinai making the golden calf and worshipping it. It is difficult to imagine how the people could have wandered so quickly from God just weeks after the miracle of Exodus when they walked in the middle of the sea out of Egypt. That is humanity corrupted by original sin. They forgot what God did for them. That is always the cause of sin in the Old Testament, forgetting what God did. But Moses interceded before God and we see God’s mercy as he forgave the people.
Then in the second reading we heard about God’s mercy in Paul’s life (1 Tim 1:12-17). He had once been “a blasphemer, and a persecutor and arrogant.” In the past Paul had been a zealous Pharisee. He stood by as Stephen the first Christian martyr was killed by stoning for witnessing to Jesus (Acts 8:1). Then as Paul was going to persecute and wreak havoc on the Church in Damascus he saw Jesus in a vision on the road just before he arrived in Damascus and his life changed forever (Acts 9). In the reading we heard, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost. But for that reason I was mercifully treated.” (1 Tim 1:15-16) Paul regards God’s mercy to him as an example for all. He had been terrorizing the Church when Jesus appeared to him and he experienced the mercy of Jesus and his life was changed forever. The mercy of God puts everything back in order and in the right place in our life. The mercy of God was the cure that Paul needed and is also the cure our world needs.
We see this also in the Gospel today (Luke 15). When the Prodigal Son left home and squandered everything he ended up in a very bad place. Then we read that he came to his senses. He realized that there is a better way to live, and that better way to live was at home. He decided to return home and offer to become a servant in the house of his father. But his father wouldn’t hear of him becoming a servant and welcomed him back as a son. In many different ways the parable shows that the prodigal is welcomed back as a son, not as a servant.
When the father saw his son a long way off, he didn’t wait, he ran to him, embraced him and kissed him.
He gave him the best robe.
He gave him sandals; family members wore sandals while servants went barefoot.
He gave him a ring which is a sign of authority in the house.
Finally the father had the fattened calf killed, not just any calf, but a calf which was being specially fed for a feast.
Jesus told this parable to teach us that God is always waiting for us to return to him. If we are in a bad place in life like the prodigal with the pigs, there is a better way to live, with God in our life. Life is better with God than without God. Notice the mercy of God and the welcome that God has for us. When we return to God we are welcomed back as a son, not as a servant. If we turn to God there is no sin that cannot be forgiven by God.
Some have difficulty understanding that God is so merciful and we see the prodigal son’s older brother has this difficulty. He sulks outside the house and refuses to go in to the party his father has thrown for his brother (Luke 15:28). The father goes out of the house to welcome him in also. This is also a lesson from God. God really is this forgiving and merciful. We see it again in the first two parables of the Gospel we heard today (Luke 15:1-10). There is a celebration when the shepherd finds his lost sheep and the woman finds the lost coin. When we return to God there is a party in heaven. If we turn to God there is no sin that cannot be forgiven by God. Bitterness, anger, resentment and revenge in the world are destroying the world. There is a better way to live, the way of God, God’s mercy. God’s love and mercy is the cure for this world which is out of whack.
How is it that God is able to totally forgive us? Jesus took our sins to the cross. Jesus paid the price for our sins. Now all we have to do is ask God for his mercy and forgiveness which flows to us from the cross and we receive that mercy and forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You see and hear the priest but it is Jesus and his mercy that you meet in that sacrament. Jesus is waiting for you in the sacrament to forgive you. Jesus’ mother Mary stood beneath the cross as Jesus died and we sometimes call her Mother of Mercy. The Hail Holy Queen which we pray after the Rosary says, “Hail Holy Queen mother of mercy…turn then most gracious advocate thine eyes of mercy towards us.” We can turn to Mary also asking her to intercede for us before her Son Jesus that we may receive the fullness of Jesus’ love and forgiveness and mercy. There is nothing Jesus’ mother would want more for us than to be close to her son Jesus. If we turn to God there is no sin that cannot be forgiven by God. Bitterness, anger, resentment and revenge in the world are destroying the world. There is a better way to live, the way of God, God’s mercy. God’s love and mercy is the cure for this world.
© Fr. Tommy Lane 2016
More material for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday Year C
Related Homilies: Our Heavenly Father offers us all he has
stories about God’s Mercy
stories about sin
stories about confession of sin
my commentary on the Parable of Prodigal Son in Enjoying the Bible