Sunday, Sept. 15, is the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C). Mass readings: Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 17,19; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32.
There is a story about a kindergarten boy was sent to the principal’s office for having hit a little girl over the head with a paper towel tube. When asked by the principal why he had done so, the child responded, “I don’t know. I like her. I want to be good.” He was dismissed with a pat on the head and a reminder to make amends, but the principal noted that this child expressed a universal human experience.
That boy communicated the anguish of the human heart when confronted by its own sin. And today’s readings recount this human experience and provide us the Good News of God’s love in the midst of it.
In the first reading we find God ready to enact justice upon the people of Israel, who, having just been miraculously saved from the Egyptians, turn to the worship of an idol. It is Moses’ intercessory prayer that stays God’s righteous arm. Moses reminds the Lord of his promises to Abraham, Isaac and Israel. He reminds God of his merciful love, and God relents.
In the responsorial we find the famous words of the 51st Psalm, which beg for “a clean heart” and a “steadfast spirit.” The prayer of the author is not only that mercy be shown for sins committed, but it is a prayer for the power to avoid sin and the anguish which comes with it in the future.
Then in St. Paul’s First Letter to Timothy, he reminds his friend of the past: “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant.” By God’s grace he has come to know the truth. He is still a sinner, but this is okay because the Good News is that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
This Good News is proclaimed clearly in the Gospel today where Our Lord addresses the Pharisees and the scribes. They are complaining that Jesus is allowing “tax collectors and sinners” to draw near and eat with him. To them Jesus relates the story of a shepherd who leaves the 99 to seek out the one lost sheep. Then he tells the story of a woman who loses one of 10 coins but searches everywhere for the one and rejoices with her neighbors when she finds it. Finally, the Lord tells the famous story of the Prodigal Son.
In each of these stories, the message is the same: Sin makes us lost. It separates us from our neighbors, our family and from God. It makes us lose our senses and ourselves. Despite our desire to be good, like that little boy, we find ourselves doing that which we hate (Romans 7:15).
The Good News, then, is that Christ Jesus was sent to answer the prayer of the Psalmist, to heal us, to give us new hearts and a new spirit, to grant us the power to avoid sin and its anguish. Rejoice today in the Good News of mercy shown to us. Pray for the gift of a mercy we can show to others, for it is in receiving the mercy of God that we can be more merciful ourselves.
Omar Gutierrez is a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska.
He is the president and co-founder of the Evangelium Institute.