A reading from the Book of Exodus
(Chapter 32:7-11, 13-14)
This reading is about the infidelity of the people who were saved by God from slavery in Egypt. "The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down at once to your people. … They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them, making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it, sacrificing to it and crying out, “This is your God, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!” I see how stiff-necked this people is. … Let me alone, then, that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them.’"
“But Moses implored the Lord, his God, saying ‘Why, O Lord, should your wrath raise up against your own people?’” Then Moses began to bargain with God. This may seem strange to us but “Semitic bargaining” was a feature of life at that time. And God relented and said to Moses, “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and all this land that I promised, I will give your descendants as their perpetual in heritance.”
Notice that at first God refers to the Hebrews as “your people,” even though he has always considered them as his people. Then, after he has forgiven them for their idolatry, they are once again his people.
We do not worship any golden calf today, but we may be tempted to worship power or money or possessions. Of course, we would never say that, but we might be tempted to discard our values for power or possessions. It is good to ask ourselves these questions every once in a while. What are we tempted to worship? Does anything hold power over us?
(Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19)
“I will rise and go to my father.” The first line of the Psalm says, “Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.” God’s mercy is always there for us.
A reading from St. Paul's letter to Timothy
(Chapter 1: 12-17)
St. Paul was more responsible for the growth of the early Church than any other person. But he had been a really “bad guy.” As he writes, “I was once a blasphemer, a persecutor, a man filled with arrogance.” This great man had participated in the murder of Christians before his conversion: “But because I did not know what I was doing in my unbelief, I have been treated mercifully, and the grace of our Lord has been granted me in overflowing measure, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. … Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the worst. But pm on that very account I was dealt with mercifully, so that in me, as an extreme case, Jesus Christ might display all his patience, and that I might become an example to those who would later have faith in him and gain everlasting life.”
In the first reading, from the Book of Exodus, we read about God’s mercy for his people. Here, Paul talks about the great mercy that he received from Jesus, a mercy that literally turned his life around.
Has the forgiveness of God, the mercy of God ever turned your life around? Has it helped you out of depression, self-doubt, even self-hatred? The healing mercy of God is truly amazing, transforming, life- changing. Perhaps you know someone who is in need of God’s mercy but does not know it or does not know how to ask for it. Have you ever thought that one of our great gifts and roles in life is to embody the merciful love of Jesus in your life and work? It is right there within us, and the need is all around us.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
This passage contains the most beautiful and important parable of Jesus. It is often called “the parable of the Prodigal Son,” but the true focus is on the father’s love, his crazy, over-the-top love for the son who demanded his inheritance even though, as the younger son, he should have waited until his older brother received his share. The younger son "went off to a distant country where he squandered his money on dissolute living. After he had spent everything, a great famine broke out in that country and he was in dire need." So, he took the only job available, “to take care of the pigs.” What a disgusting, demeaning job for a formerly rich young Jewish man to have. It got so bad that “he longed to fill his belly with the husks that were fodder for the pigs, but no one made a move to give him anything."
Finally, he came to his senses: “Here I am starving! I will break away and return to my father, and say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against God and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son. Treat me like one of your hired hands." Then, a remarkable, expected thing happened. “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was deeply moved. He ran out to meet him, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against God and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’” You know the rest of the story. The father was so happy that he threw a homecoming celebration. This angered his older son who refused to enter the house and rightfully complained that he had been the worthy one. The father told him, “My son ... you are with me always, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice! This brother of yours was dead, and has come back to life. He was lost, and is found.:
Jesus told this parable to proclaim his Father’s love and mercy for all, even great sinners. Of course, his Father is also Our Father who continues to offer us his “crazy,” unconditional love. Always.
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
Bill Ayers was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.