24th Sunday in O.T. (C); Sept. 11, 2016
Ex 32:7-11, 13-14 Ps 51 1 Tm 1:12-17 Lk 15:1-32
Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison
The God that Jesus reveals does not operate according to the way we go about doing things. We’re given a heads-up in the Old Testament from the prophet Isaiah, who, speaking for God, says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Is 55:8). If some ordinary person would think and act the way God does, we’d say “he’s crazy.”
This is born out in chapter 15 of the Gospel of Luke, where God is supposed to be like the Shepherd who abandons 99 sheep so that he can save one. ONE! What about the other 99?! What about cutting your losses and moving on? Or, the woman who tears her whole house apart in search of a penny. A PENNY! And, when she finds it, she invites her neighbors to a party to celebrate her good fortune…over a penny! I mean, you’ve got to be kidding me. Then there’s the incredible story of the Prodigal Son, whose Father, despite being disrespected and rejected, welcomes his lost son with joyful open arms.
Brothers, let’s face it: we have difficulty in embracing these stories because we’re drenched in the ways of the world and when we look at them, we feel in our gut that God must be crazy according to the way we think. But, here’s the key: Jesus is challenging us to learn how to think and live according to God’s logic.
But, this hard because the way of society is to demand strict justice according to the Law. What is the Law? It has to do with owing and being owed. What I have is mine and when my rights are infringed, I expect that those who have wronged me will be punished, preferably for a very long time. This is the world of calculating and controlling with tit-for-tat. If I do this for you, you do this for me. If you harm me, then I’m entitled to payback. That’s the way of the world inside and outside these walls.
What accompanies secular justice is division: who’s in and who’s out; who’s owed and who’s in debt. There’s also a tendency not to forgive: if you don’t pay me what you owe or if you hurt me in any way, then I can seek retribution; I’m entitled to hurt you back. This attitude is “an eye-for-an eye, a tooth-for-a tooth” on steroids. But, as Mahatma Gandhi said, “If we live by an eye-for-an-eye, soon the whole world will be blind.”
Contrast this attitude with the mercy of Jesus. Even though God does not owe us anything, he’s going to give us something totally unearned. He’s going to give us grace, his merciful love. Even though we’ve hurt God in the way we treat others, he’s not going to demand payback in return. Instead, he’s going to pour his love into our hearts and guess what: he’s going to do so joyfully. As we look at these three stories—the Good Shepherd, the strange lady, and the Prodigal Father—all of them speak of the joy of God. And, why is God joyful? God finds joy in forgiving us. God finds joy in showering us with his mercy.
Some of you may be thinking, “Deacon, I’m certainly excluded because I’m a great sinner: I have done some terrible things in my life; that’s why I’m in prison.” Brothers, as we learned from the parable of Narrow Gate, Jesus does not exclude anyone as he gives everyone access to the family of the Trinity Who is love. And, do you know what you and I have in common with Pope Francis? We’re all sinners! So, get over it! There are only two kinds of people: sinners and those who know they are sinners. So, which one are you? Put simply, sinners are the focus of his ministry. The parables today reveal just how much God wants us to share in his love.
Let’s look at the Parable of the Prodigal Son to see God’s mercy at work. Both sons are operating in the world’s logic of justice. The younger boys says, “Father give me the share of the inheritance coming to me” (Lk 15:12a). Eventually, this young man would be entitled to a minority share of his Father’s wealth. But, his demand was very insulting because he’s virtually saying “why don’t you die and give me my inheritance? Since I can’t wait for you to die, give it to me now!” What he’s looking for is something that is owed him. This is the secular language of justice, which tends to separate and divide. Moreover, it’s not marked by graciousness, forgiveness, or joy.
The young man gets what he wants and goes to a “distant country,” which in the original Greek is chora machra or “the big emptiness.” By trying to grab happiness by acquiring the goods of the world, in this case, money, he is no longer in communion with his Father, but is estranged. He is in that condition of non-Being, where there is no Life or Love.
After a life of dissipation, he returns. And, what the Father do? He doesn’t frown, berate, or punish him. But, like the Good Shepherd and the cookie woman, he runs out to welcome him. And, look how he does it: he lifts up his robes, exposes his bare legs, and with the wind blowing through his beard, he’s going to run down the hill to embrace his son because “I love you!” I’m going to kill the fattened calf because I’m not going to relate to you according to what you deserve. I’m going to relate to you out of uncalculating mercy and love.”
Brothers, Jesus is Immanuel: he is God in the Flesh and he reveals to us that God is love. That’s why Jesus is all mercy. Jesus is all love. Each one of us in this chapel is that little lost lamb and the coin that was mislaid; each one of us is that son who has squandered his freedom on false idols, illusions of happiness, and has lost everything. But, God does not forget you. He does not give up on you. The Father will not and cannot abandon us. Jesus reveals that His Father, whom he invites us to call Abba or Daddy, is always waiting for us. He respects our freedom that’s why he doesn’t force us to love him. Even though we may reject him, he remains faithful to us forever. And when we come back to him, he welcomes us like children coming home. There has never been a moment in which God has ceased to love you. His love for you never ceases, not for an instant. He will wait for us with his love. And, when we return, his heart rejoices over one who has returned. The minor prophet Zephaniah reminds us that “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; HE WILL REJOICE OVER YOU WITH GLADNESS, and renew you in his love” (Zp 3:17).
Brothers, Jesus is the Narrow Gate and his Way into the Kingdom of God is the Great Commandment. It is the love of God and neighbor that brings fulfillment in all the Commandments. And this is the love of God, his joy: forgiveness. The Father forgives you because you are his beloved Son and he loves you unconditionally. To remain in the Father’s loving embrace, we have to forgive each other—nobody is excluded.
People of God at Folsom Prison, we have a choice. We can continue to live according to the law of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth;” when we do, we will never escape the downward spiral of evil. The Evil One does not want you to forgive because he does not want you to share in God’s eternal life.
Or, we can live according to the Way of Jesus, which is the Way of the Cross. The Cross is the judgment of God on us and the whole world. But, how does God judge us? Not by getting even, but by giving his life for us. Jesus’ total act of self-giving love was the supreme act of divine justice which overcame sin, death, and the power of Satan. It’s the supreme act of Divine Mercy. So, Jesus calls us to follow his path: Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36).
In silence let us take a moment to think of someone who has hurt you, annoyed you, treated you unfairly; someone you may be angry with; someone you simply don’t like. Let us think of this person from the perspective of Jesus’ Sacred Heart. Let us think of this person in silence, at this moment, let us pray for that person and let us become merciful with this person just as Jesus is with us. …Amen