At the base of Mount Sinai, the Hebrew people were at a far better place of freedom than Egypt. God had led them out of their
slavery in Egypt and they exited (Exodus) from the sorrows of their former captivity. Yet, as is often the case with the human heart, they forgot who led them there and began to attribute their success to a molten golden calf.
“This is your God, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!” You and I can be like this too. Perhaps it is our pride or maybe our lack of faith, but we too before long can begin to unconsciously congratulate ourselves for successes, or worse we return to darker ways of our past once “the coast is clear.” Or maybe we abandon the ways of real love that have brought us so far, when they begin to prove too difficult or things begin to return to “normal.” Freely God lets us go, leaving behind his wisdom, his ways of love that have brought us out of captivity, and as he does with the younger son in today’s Gospel, he waits for us to return.
Paul’s first Letter to Timothy, his appointed successor, finds Paul in a moment of sorrowful love and seriousness as he reflects on his own wanderings away from the living God. Paul gives thanks for his ministry, a great gift, as he writes, “I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me trustworthy in appointing me to the ministry.” But he follows this by a litany of sorrow, knowing well who he once was. Paul’s mind seems to be etched with the faces and tears of torn families from the early years of his Christian persecution and the face of Stephen whom he oversaw stoned to death. “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant, but I have been mercifully treated because I acted out of ignorance.”
Paul wants us to remember him not so much for who he is, but rather as one whom God has mercifully saved and given new life. Paul points backward and then to the Lord as the one to whom all honor is to be given. He views himself as “an example for those who would come to believe.” Paul doesn’t want anyone to feel ashamed about approaching God. Paul bids us welcome and invites us to come stand near him for companionship if we are ashamed or afraid of our sinfulness, and desires us to know that he too is a great sinner, “the foremost.” The stained glass images of Paul that fill so many churches are reminders of the God who brings beauty from sin. All have a friend in Paul.
The selection from Luke finds Luke clustering three parables highlighting truths about God and us. God is the good shepherd who truly loves the little sheep that is gone. We are loved. Second, God views us as the precious coin for which he tirelessly “searches.” We are of great worth. Lastly, God patiently waits for the moment we make the decision to return to him. God sees us from afar and loves us. We are worth waiting for. These truths also mark those who share the Father’s mission of salvation. We are not angry sons. We are “fathers” in the image of the one Father.
Questions for Reflection
1. Do I give God the glory in all things?
2. Can I take my place with Paul as a saved sinner?
3. Am I a father in the image of the one Father?
Fr. Vander Steeg is pastor of St. Mary Parish, Greenville, and St. Edward Parish, Mackville.