TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – Ex 32:7-11, 13f. 1 Tim 1:12-17 Lk 15:1-32 (or 15:1-10). Being Joyfully and Mercifully Forgiving. God’s Unique Kind of Forgiveness; Relying Upon and Imitating God’s Forgiveness; Rise and Go to the Father; Forgiveness, the Final Form of Love With good reason, someone has said that humankind’s deepest need and highest achievement is forgiveness.

Today’s excerpt from the second book of the Bible, Exodus, speaks of one incident of a provoked God forgiving His people. Throughout the Exodus from Egypt, God’s people griped and whined: They complained that the pursuing Egyptians were going to overtake and kill them; they complained that they didn’t have enough to eat; when God gave them manna to eat, they complained about its monotonous taste; they complained that they didn’t have enough water (so God gave them water from the rock); they complained that the inhabitants of the Promised Land would be too strong for them; and so on and on.

Now, while Moses was on Mt. Sinai, they complained that Moses had abandoned them, so they moulded the golden calf-idol. God announced that He would destroy the people for this, and so Moses appealed to Him to forgive. Because of God’s loving-kindness (hesed) for His people, He forgave. Of course, God doesn’t “get angry” or “change His mind” or “repent”. But in our efforts to understand God, we have to use human language, as did the writers of the First Testament. So what began as a story of a people’s sinfulness really became a story
of God’s forgiveness.

God’s forgiveness on Mt. Sinai foreshadowed what Jesus would do and teach. Today’s portion of St Luke’s Gospel begins with the Pharisees’ complaint that Jesus was eating with sinners. In truth, Jesus’ dinner companions were what the cat dragged in. They would never make the guest list at White House banquets or appear in newspapers’ society pages. And the Pharisees had a point. Whereas to us it may appear simply that Jesus was being friendly, in their culture sharing food together meant that the people at the table show that they accept one another? To counter the Pharisees, Jesus told three stories about God reaching out and about forgiveness.

Because the three stories are of the lost — the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son – some flippantly call this section the “Lost and Found Department”. It should more properly be called “God’s Joy in Forgiving Sinners”. Jesus’ three stories have as their essential purpose the revelation that God’s love is broader and deeper than people’s love, and can forgive even when people would refuse to do so. But they don’t all say exactly the same thing.