Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sunday word, 16 Sep 2007

24th Sunday of the Year (16 Sep 2007) Ex 32. 7-11,13-14; Ps 51; 1Tim 1. 12-17; Lk15. 1-32
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Letting God Be God

Crossing white water in order to get to the other side of a gorge is perilous, and the image of it can cause us to check if our shoes leak. Close to home, crossing where Silsby, Belvoir and Wrenford intersect in their by-no-means even way is perilous, too. Every crossing there is a brief driver’s ed class. Still more perilous to us Christians is failing to cross cultures, namely from our own to the culture of Jesus.

That kind of crossing is very real even though it occurs not in a boat or car or on foot but in our imaginations. Jesus’ culture was a first-century, Mediterranean culture. You and I encounter first-century, Mediterranean culture each time we hear Jesus speak to us from the gospel. We even encounter a much older Mediterranean culture in the Hebrew scriptures. That means crossing from the 21st to the first century and earlier requires us to let go of our instantaneous, technological way of thinking. Entering into the Mediterranean culture means being sensitive to reputation and honor, or to “saving face.

We may isolate saving face to the Far East but it was--and is--very much part of the Near East, too--Palestine, Israel and Arab states. When we are aware of that then Moses’ imploring the Lord begins to make sense. The God, who brought out of the land of Egypt a ragtag band, cannot willy-nilly give in to anger and let wrath blaze up against [God’s] own people. For God to be God, God forgives and shows mercy. This honor and reputation of God, indeed God’s identity, is both divine and also humane, like the father in Jesus’ perhaps-too-familiar parable.

His first two parables, featuring Luke’s characteristic pairing of a man and a woman, here a shepherd and a homemaker, vividly portray the anxiety that comes with loss, and how anxiety can induce us to act. The shepherd risked the other ninety-nine sheep to seek the lost one; and who of us hasn’t turned
upside down office, home, playhouse or bedroom to find something dear to us?

Jesus’ third parable of lost and found details emotional conflict that is common across all cultures. The younger son disregarded Honor your father and mother when he asked his father for his inheritance while his father was very much alive and in good health! His father did not abuse his son for his reckless and selfish insensitivity. More, the father seems to have spent long hours watching for his son: While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. Plus, he would not allow his son to complete his carefully rehearsed speech. God is this eager, Jesus suggested, to watch for and welcome us, who wander from his covenant.

The Pharisees and scribes could not imagine such a humane, affectionate and prodigal God. They--at least to hear their side of things of which Jesus constantly received an earful--
who had served God and never disobeyed God’s orders, could not identify themselves as children of Jesus’ humane, affectionate and prodigal God. Worse, their self-image seems to have been slaves instead of sons: vigilant to carry out orders and resenting others with whom Jesus’ fraternized, dined and whom he welcomed.

St. Paul once was not welcoming, and by his own admission, a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant. He knew well that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, that God’s very heart is vigilant for the lost. A blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant person--add your own unwelcoming, resentful quality--who admits that knows in a deeply felt way that God is ever-vigilant for just that kind of person.

God desires no one to stand outside of the heavenly banquet, which is clear from those to whom Jesus addressed these three parables, the Pharisee and scribes: Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

The younger son did not care about “saving face.” He wanted his father to be his father; and Jesus suggested God was very much like that father. The elder son, and the Pharisees and scribes, cared so much about themselves that their self-concern blocked them from experiencing God’s merciful love of them and of everyone else. I'm often tempted to be like that.

In your 15 minutes with Jesus this week, become more aware of the Trinity loving you with their love, which is better than life./1/ Ask St. Paul, foremost sinner-become-saint, to introduce you to Jesus so that you may converse with Jesus in affectionate familiarity, as friend to friend. That, after all, is Jesus’ desire. While you speak with Jesus, saying what you need or asking for what you desire most, ask him for the grace to communicate more frequently and to welcome Jesus as your brother, who is your Messiah. Resolve one way how you can do that. Then close by saying slowing the Lord’s Prayer, which shapes our hearts more like Jesus’ heart and reminds us that we are not God’s slaves but our Father’s daughters and sons.
/1/ The phrase comes from Psalm 63.2 It is unique in the Old Testament because only in this verse is anything valued more than life, and it is God’s love!
Wiki-images of Rembrandt's The Return of the Prodigal Son and The Good Shepherd are in the public domain

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