24tth Sunday of the Year C (12 Sep 2010)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Jesus’ well-known parable of the prodigal father and his two sons is the third lost-and-found parable Jesus told to the Pharisees and scribes [who] began to complain when tax collectors and sinners [drew] near to listen to Jesus. Those opening verses are easy to ignore, yet they are like a ring-setting for diamonds. The precious stones are set apart by their mounting, and that enhances a viewer’s appreciation of them. Jesus invites us to appreciate God favoring us limited, stumbling crown of creation.
In telling the parables Jesus described God favoring sinners. This way of God was God’s way from the beginning. We heard Moses—one of many prophets and holy ones who would bring God’s heart to God’s attention—remind God of God’s promise: “Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and how you swore to them by your own self…” So the Lord relented in the punishment he had threatened to inflict on his people. Over time the religious professionals forgot God’s way, and in the fulness of time,1 as we Christians describe our present, God in Jesus personally favored sinners, the lost and all whom others forced to the margins of life.
Anyone can be on the margins of life and not realize it. What can place anyone on the margins—another person or group; personal and social sin; ill health; loss of home or job; loss of a loved one; reliving tragedy or living with its effects, to name a few—has a weird power to remain in the shadows: often we are unaware of the distorting power that forces us and others to the margins of life.
I offer myself as an example. I noticed earlier this week I was strongly missing my mother. How did I notice it? By noting that, since her death, I had not been making my weekly drives to visit her, as I had been doing. How did I notice that? I listened to audiobooks on my drives, and I hadn’t finished one in a long time. When I allowed myself to feel what was beneath missing not completing an audiobook, missing my mother was so obvious! Yet, it had not been before.
I suppose the combination of time passing as well as denial—we humans have a difficult time admitting loss—and the need to address daily tasks conspire to mask what forced me to the margin of life. On the margin I was less free to enjoy my memories of my mother, and more important, to savor the God who created her and me and redeemed us and desires all people to enjoy life with God forever, beginning here and now. The margins blind us to the present and to God with us in it.
The fact that tax collectors and sinners [drew] near to listen to Jesus offers an inkling of what they needed and what God in Jesus offered. St. Paul offered to his coworker Timothy and to us more than an inkling. He offered his conversion as his experience of God’s compassionate love. I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant, but I have been mercifully treated because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief. Indeed, the grace of our Lord has been abundant, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. And here’s the apostolic jolt Timothy—and we—needed to hear...I was mercifully treated, so that in me...Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life.
When you and I consider the patient love which Jesus displays toward us—through a kind word of another; by protecting us from danger; by helping us notice what truly matters; by making us aware of imperfection and accepting it as a teacher instead of as a threat—when Jesus’ patient love and faith does these things, Jesus moves us from the margin of his risen life nearer its center, where we can savor it. Jesus’ love of us sinners made real the poet’s words: “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.”2 Savoring his patient love of us empowers us to do likewise.
In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, compose yourself in the Trinity. Ask St. Paul to present you to Jesus. Speak to Jesus: praise him for his patient love of you by which he creates and sustains you; ask him for the grace to allow Jesus to be the center of your life so you can be an example of Jesus’ patient love to others. Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. His words, as we forgive others, on our lips, helps us measure how centered in Jesus we are.
1. Galatians 4.4; Ephesians 1.10.
2. Attributed to Goethe. People: Webster’s Quotations, Facts and Phrases. Icon Group International, Inc., 2008, p. 42.