THEME: This Man Receives Sinners and Eats with Them

BY: Fr. Luke Ijezie



Exodus 32:7-11,13-14
Psalm 51:3-4,12-13,17,19
1Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-32

This 24th Sunday of the year presents to us the theme of forgiveness, which is at the very heart of God’s dealings with us humans. As I am writing this, I am even asking myself whether I have forgiven all I should forgive. It is easier to talk of forgiveness than to give it. Many conflicts and acrimonious relationships among us are based on our inability to forgive and reconcile with those who offend us. Our marriages, families and communities are filled with stories of offences and lack of forgiveness. But why must we forgive?

In the Gospel of today from Luke 15:1-32, Jesus is accused of receiving sinners and eating with them. For his critics, this is a great anomaly. As readers of the biblical story, we may condemn the Pharisees and Scribes for making such accusation against Jesus, but one wonders whether we today fare better. Ordinarily, we tend to rave at all who associate with known evil-doers. Of course, sinners are evil doers. But should we condone their evil by associating with them as Jesus does?

Jesus answers his accusers with three related stories: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son (the prodigal). In each of these stories, the joy in finding the lost entity overrides the pain of the loss or the eagerness to punish. In each case, what is lost is found.
The story begins with the statement that sinners were coming to Jesus to hear him. This means that they are attracted by his call for conversion and new life. Forgiveness is both an invitation and welcome to a new life. The one who is forgiven deserves to be punished, but the offended party freely opts to welcome the offender to a new life and new relationship. This is what the father of the prodigal lost son does to him. The boy was considered not only lost but dead. Now he has come back to life by returning to the father.

This is also what God does to Israel in the first reading from Exod 32:7-14. The people of Israel sinned by abandoning Yahweh, their God. Through the intercession of Moses, Yahweh pardons them even though they deserve to be punished. He welcomes them into a new relationship.

We find a similar argument in the second reading from 1Tim 1:12-17, where Paul gives this beautiful saying: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners; but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (vv. 15-16). Despite being a persecutor, Paul received a free forgiveness and free entry into new life. Paul’s story is really extraordinary because Jesus appeared to him while he was still burbling with hate for the Jesus movement.

The readings of today are meant to inspire us to learn from God’s way of doing. We are asked to forgive because that is the way God does with sinners. Left alone as humans, we cannot forgive. We are asked to imitate God. That is why it is said that to forgive is divine. All who forgive act like God. To follow Jesus, we must be imitators of him. All who call themselves Christians or children of God and refuse to forgive their erring brothers and sisters are surely not true to their identity. There is no payment for forgiveness. It is given out of kindness. The Psalmist of Psalm 51 cries to God: “Lord in your kindness, blot out my offence.” In the same way, we are called upon to offer pardon and reconciliation to those who offend us.
May God give us the Spirit to forgive as He does and to live in harmony with our fellow brothersandsisters!

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