Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Fr. Pete Iorio
September 15, 2019 – 8:30 & 11:00 AM
What is your image of God? Is God a divine recordkeeper who watches your every move and will hold you accountable with a list of the good things and the bad things that you have done at the end of your life at the final judgement?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us an astounding teaching into the very nature of God that for me does not correspond with the image of divine recordkeeper. In the three parables, God is one who always searches for the lost. In the first two parables, God goes to extremes to find what is lost. This does not make sense financially or logically. God does not count the cost in seeking out a sinner and rejoicing when he or she returns.
And the most amazing good news is the parable of the prodigal son. Prodigal means lavish or wasteful. I prefer to call this story the parable of the prodigal father. God the Father is wasteful and lavish with his mercy and love. The parable tells the nature of God being a suffering God who gives free will to his children. Of all the parables and teachings of Jesus, this is the paramount teaching on the nature of God and the strongest critique on false religion. The younger son symbolizes the sinners who Jesus came for and seeks out. The older son symbolizes people who do it right and want the punishment for those who do it wrong. He is caught up in his own self-righteousness.
If this is Jesus’ image of God, we have no need to fear anything from God unless we think of ourselves as worthy and better than everyone else. There is no better image of God than one who gives his very substance to a very selfish teenage boy who wants his inheritance before his father even dies. God is like that with us, giving us everything even in our selfishness and when the pleasure of it runs out and we hit bottom, God is the one who initiates saving grace. When the younger son comes sulking home, and ready to confess his sins to his father, notice what it says: The Father sees him in the distance and runs to him, kissing him and embracing him and ready to slaughter the fattened calf and throw a party for him. How crazy and prodigal meaning wasteful is that? According to Jesus, God is all loving and all forgiving.
In the second reading today, I see what a conversion of the elder son to be like. Paul as we know was a Pharisee and persecuted the first Christians even concurring with the stoning to death of our first martyr Stephen. In his letter to Timothy, he confesses that he was a blasphemer and did not see correctly. It was only through the grace of Jesus Christ that he changed.
I end with a shortened true story from the 18th century: Englishman John Newton was a slave trader and the ship was caught in a horrendous storm and almost sank. He prayed to God and thankfully no one died. Newton took this as a sign from God and marked it as his conversion to Christianity. He did not radically change his ways at once, as his total conversion was more gradual. Later he became an Anglican priest and is best known for writing a very popular hymn: Sing with me: Amazing Grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind but now I see. This hymn summarizes the message of the Gospel.
I invite everyone to not leave church before the end of Mass today because in a very particular way, we are going to participate in a process that will help us experience as a community, the mercy of God. I am not going to tell you what it is. You have to wait until the end of Mass.