September 11, 2016 — Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
In today’s Gospel reading from St. Luke, Jesus delivers three parables in short order. The first deals with a lost sheep; the second with a lost coin; and the third with a lost son. Although the Lord was specifically speaking to Pharisees and scribes, a large crowd had gathered including sinners and tax collectors, and Jesus’ message was as much for them. In fact, it is a message each of us needs to hear and to take to heart.
As is always the case in Holy Scripture, there are messages for us in each of today’s readings. How carefully do we listen to those messages? We may hear the scripture readings; we may even follow them carefully in a missalette or other book, but do we truly listen for the messages there are for each of us?
The First Reading comes to us from the Book of Exodus. The second Book of the Old Testament, Exodus gets its name from the ancient Greek word exodus, meaning “going out.” It tells how the Israelites leave slavery in Egypt through the strength of God and under the leadership of Moses. They journey through the wilderness to Mt. Sinai, where God promises them the land of Canaan (the Promised Land) in return for their faithfulness. However, this particular reading from Exodus 32 speaks of a time when the people strayed from their faith.
God is speaking to Moses, and the Lord explains that things are happening and have happened of which Moses may not be aware. God speaks of idols and false Gods. This is a warning for all of us. Many times in our lives we lose our sense of priority; we may see other things as more important at moments than our faith. God can and will forgive us, but it is a forgiveness we must seek, and we must be committed to changing to live God-centered lives — the kind of conversion required of us to be good stewards.
To serve God we must first be faithful to God. That is what Paul is explaining to Timothy in the Second Reading. St. Paul is well aware that he is reliant upon the Lord to be enabled to serve Him and to share the Good News with others. Paul says, “I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me trustworthy in appointing me to the ministry.” We often speak of how important it is to trust in the Lord. However, we cannot neglect the fact that God trusts us as well.
This is the kind of trust about which Paul is speaking. Paul did not “volunteer” to serve God. He was called and he responded to that call. The Lord also calls each of us, and He expects each of us to respond as good stewards also. However, one of the greatest gifts we receive — free will — can also be a stumbling block. Of course, it all goes back to faithfulness, the faith that failed the Israelites. God loves us; God is patient with us; and God forgives us when we fail. The secret is for us, like Paul, to be grateful for our calling. Our Second Reading concludes with St. Paul declaring “To the king of ages, incorruptible, invisible, the only God, honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” Paul could never stop praising God. If we have trouble with that, it is probably because we do not know God very well. That may be the real goal of our lives.
Jesus’ parables are the epitome of how He teaches us. The three in today’s Gospel Reading from St. Luke all involve what is important in life. In the parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son (the Prodigal’s son) Jesus is addressing the issue of what is important in God’s eyes and how that relates to repentance and forgiveness. Much has been written and said about the story of the prodigal son and it might be summarized quite simply. The son makes two appeals to his father. The first might be stated as “Give me…” and the second as “Make me…”
We may ask for a lot from God as well. But the real key to success and to being a good steward is to say quite simply “Lord, make me what You will” or “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.” It is only through faith and through gratitude and through acceptance of God’s will that we can truly serve Him. Real joy is found in God’s response to that second request — “Make me.”