Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

By Father Donald Dilger

Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32

The context of the first reading is Moses’ absence from the Israelites for a period of 40 days and 40 nights. He was on Mt. Sinai hobnobbing with the Lord God, all the while receiving from God the Torah and the stone tablets (Ten Commandments) “written by the finger of God.” In the absence of Moses, things were falling apart down below. The people said to Aaron, high priest and brother of Moses, “We do not know what happened to this Moses. Make us a god to lead us.” Aaron asked for the women’s golden jewelry. He threw it into a furnace to melt it. As he will say to Moses later, “and out comes this calf.” This was their new god. Up on the mountain, the Lord noticed these goings on. He tells Moses to get out of the way because he is about to destroy the rebellions Israelites, “but out of you I will form a great nation.” Moses apparently was too attached to the people too allow this. He pleads with God to spare them.

In a verse that the assemblers of the Lectionary omitted, (their attempt at a cover-up), Moses warns the Lord that the Egyptians will say, “The Lord treacherously brought them out of Egypt so he could kill them in the mountains, and wipe them off the face of the earth.” Moses knew the Lord would not want his reputation tarnished.  He also reminded the Lord of the oath he swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Israel) — that their descendants would be as numerous as the stars. Besides that, the Lord had promised a patch of land to these patriarchs, the Promised Land. Moses implies that the Lord did not want to be smeared as an oath-breaker and one who reneges on a promise. The Lord wants to retain his good reputation, and reconsiders, “relenting from the punishment he had threatened to inflict on his people.” That God can be toyed with in this way is only a human way to speak about the Almighty, depicting God as temperamental and as careful about his reputation as humans are. The power of prayer is one point. The love of a shepherd for his flock is another. Moses gives up greater fame to save his own people.

The Responsorial Psalm (51) is the greatest of the seven Penitential Psalms. It is known by its first word in Latin, The Miserere, (“Have mercy . . .”). The Psalmist asks that his sins be blotted out, that God wash him clean of sin and guilt. He prays for a clean heart, a renewed spirit, and that God enables him (opens his lips) so that he can praise God. Does the Psalmist offer to dedicate an animal sacrifice in atonement of his sins? Not in the theology of this Psalm. Instead he says, “My sacrifice is a contrite spirit, a heart contrite and humbled.” The People’s Response is taken from the Prodigal Son story, “I will rise and go to my Father.”

The second reading begins a series of selections from the Pastoral Letters. These are two letters addressed to Paul’s young colleague Timothy, and a letter to another colleague Titus. The story of Paul’s acquisition of Timothy as assistant is in Acts 16:1-3. Timothy was the son of a mixed marriage. His mother was a Jew, his father a Greek. This is how Paul divides the human race, Jew and Greek (pagan). In this section of 1 Timothy, Paul speaks mostly of himself, good news and bad news. The bad news: “I was a blasphemer, a persecutor, arrogant.” The good news: “I have been mercifully treated (by God) because I acted out of ignorance.” He expresses gratitude to “Christ Jesus our Lord.” There is some theology. A good homily includes catechesis. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Paul is known for doxologies – glory and praise to God. An example of a major doxology is the Gloria of the Mass. Here is Paul’s doxology: “To the king of ages, incorruptible, invisible, the only God, honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

The gospel of today is all of Luke 15, his Lost and Found Chapter. There are three lost and found parables, a sheep, a coin, a son. Luke introduces the story of each by pointing out Jesus’ love for and association with the outcasts of society, tax collectors and sinners. The first group, tax collectors, can do without an explanation, even though it cries out for one. The second group, sinners, includes anyone not a part of the in-group of the society in which Jesus lived. It would be scandalous to list all those who some haughty scribes considered sinners. The first parable: a shepherd who has 100 sheep loses one. He abandons the 99 to go after the one. When he finds it, he celebrates with a grand party (eating mutton?). The second parable: a woman has 10 coins. She loses one. When she finds it, another party. What is the point of these two parables? There is more celebration in heaven, even among the angels, over the repentance of one sinner than over all others who have no need of repentance. One is reminded of the praise of the original sin in the Easter Proclamation, “O happy fault, . . . that merited such a Redeemer!”

Since the point of the first two parables was joy over repentance of a sinner, Luke adds a parable of a real sinner. The younger of two sons decides to hit the road. He asks his share of the inheritance from his father. He hands it over. He leaves, spends all on loose living, is reduced to a job feeding swine, starves because no one offers even hog food to sustain him. He reached bottom. Only one way to go — up! He decides to return home, (which is no longer his), and accept a job as a servant. The father has never given up. He keeps watching the horizon, in case the son returns. When he sees this wastrel approaching, he runs out, embraces him, kisses him. The boy makes his act of contrition. The father throws the kind of party reserved for the grandest occasion (the fatted calf). Epilogue: the older son hears the noise of the party, refuses to join in. The father begs him. The son recalls all the work he did for his father while his brother lost his inheritance consorting with “sinners.” The father pleads. “We (everyone) must celebrate.” He reminds his faithful son that the younger brother is still “your brother. He was lost and has been found.” The father of the story is The Father! Can a human father, a human being, be that forgiving?