The Good News, Distilled

User's Guide to Sunday, Sept. 11


Sunday, Sept. 11, 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 or 15:1-10.

You know Jesus forgives you, but you don’t feel very forgiven. You are no longer just “Joe” or “Jane.” You are “Joe-who-did-this.” You are “Jane-who-did-that.”

If you’re feeling this way, the Sunday readings are for you. They are the Good News distilled; they are the Gospel within the Gospel. They are Jesus’ message to you that you are not ruined.

You are restored.

The Pharisees begin today’s Gospel whispering, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” The Pharisees define sinners by their past.

But Jesus defines sinners by the future he has prepared for them.

Jesus compares your life to a sheep that a shepherd has lost. Both Matthew and Luke tell this story of the Good Shepherd, who leaves the 99 behind to find the one that is lost. But only Luke recounts what happens when he finds the sheep: “He sets it on his shoulders with great joy.”

Why does he do that? Because a lost sheep, shaken by its unfamiliar environment, will refuse to follow. So the shepherd has to pick up that sheep and carry it.

Likewise, Jesus is thrilled to carry us back into the fold of his grace. He is as thrilled as the woman in the Gospel who finds her coin or the father who sees his prodigal son return.

“This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance,” says St. Paul in the second reading. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

Like us, Paul was a sinner. But he knows he is no longer defined by those sins — and neither are we.

“I was mercifully treated, so that, in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life,” Paul says. Or think of the Jewish people in our first reading. After being led by God out of the Promised Land, they traded him for an idol and immoral revelry. God was ready to strike them down. But Moses intervened, reminding him that they are his chosen people. The Lord relented.

Even in the Old Testament, God defines us by his victory, not our failure. He defines us by his love, not his anger. He defines us by his future, not our past.

Go to confession and rejoice. You are restored.

Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. 

His book What Pope Francis Really Said is available for preorder at

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