Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time C – Have mercy on us lost sheep Lord!

September 15, 2019

             The Lectionary readings for this Sunday include two wonderful stories from the Bible – from Exodus (32:1, 7-14) about Moses and God upon the mountain and the story of Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners and his story of the Lost Sheep.

            Among his many amazing talents, Moses would have made a great defence attorney in the modern world. Moses has gone up the mountain to receive the laws God has for the Israelites.  Though they have just been freed from slavery in Egypt by spectacular miracles that God did for them, those same Israelites get restless waiting for Moses and have made molten metal into the statue of a calf and declared it as their God.  They even blamed Moses for bringing them out of Egypt into the wilderness to die. God sees what is happening and becomes very angry. He tells Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have gotten into trouble.”   But hold it. It was God who instructed Moses to lead the Israelites out of bondage into the Promised Land, but now God is blaming Moses for their failure. God goes on to say that He will consume his straying people with fire, but the Almighty will do good things for Moses because Moses has remained faithful.

            That’s when Moses, the defence attorney, reminds God of what the Egyptians will say “Their God brought them out of a fine land to slay them in the mountains, to consume them from the face of the earth.”  And Moses implores his God, saying, “Why, O LORD, should your wrath blaze up against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with …so strong a hand?   Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel… saying, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky; and all this land that I promised, I will give your descendants as their perpetual heritage.’” (Exodus 32:7-14)  In other words, these folks are lost and need to be forgiven and guided.  “So the Lord relented in the punishment He had threatened to inflict on His people.”  Moses won his case. The Israelites are lost, but God continues to fulfill the promise of guiding them to Canaan with Moses’ leadership.  How often have we lost our patience waiting for God to answer our prayers and turn to other gods like drugs, pleasure and Mr. Google instead to satisfy our longing for pleasure and healing.  Have mercy on us Lord.

            The second story (Luke 15:1-10) tells us that Jesus spends time visiting and eating with sinful folks, which did not sit well with the self-righteous Pharisees. As they rebuke him, Jesus tells them a story about a shepherd who had one hundred sheep and lost one of them. He leaves the ninety-nine and goes to find the one lost sheep and rejoices when he finds it.  He also tells the story of how the prodigal son was received back by his father. This was hard for the Pharisees to understand because they had laws that forbade them from doing business or having social connections with sinners. Legality had totally blocked their minds to the generous love of the Father. How often have we been blinded by the principles of conducting our business that we failed to show the unconditional love of God.  Have mercy on us Lord.

            In the second reading, Paul explains that though he once was a persecutor of God’s people, he obtained mercy from God who could see the man that Paul could become: “Christ came into the world to save sinners.  Of these I am the foremost. But for that very reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me Christ might display all His Patience as an example for those who would come to believe in Him.” (1 Timothy 1:15). A blasphemer, a persecutor, an insulter of Jesus and foremost of all sinners has been forgiven and called into ministry. He was lost, but was definitely found. This gives us sinners hope.  Our Lord, as the Good Shepherd, takes delight in the ninety-nine righteous people and gives them the reassurance of God’s love, but He is also willing and able to search for the lost soul.

            When we look at the conduct of our friend, our neighbour, our boss and even ourselves, we focus on the negatives most of the time.  But one whom we see as evil is not all that one is. Maybe like Paul, who once was the chief of sinners, our sinning friend could become good in the service of the Lord in the future.  He/she is just the one lost sheep.  Have mercy on him/her like our Lord.   There are times we all feel like lost sheep ourselves because of our inner feelings and desires or when we have not acted according to God’s standards. Jesus knows this happens to all of us, and he reaches out in love and compassion to guide and direct us back to the fold.  God forgave the Israelites in the wilderness and through His son, Jesus, there is much rejoicing when a single lost soul is found and returns to the flock. 

        The readings from Scripture are so comforting because we are invited to eat at the Lord’s table with him at communion, sinners though we are. We were lost and have been found, forgiven and called to minister to others in his name.  As we think about being lost and then found and at peace, may we also think about the millions of people around the world who have not found any faith or religion or peace. Let’s pray that peace may someday come to the world and stay.  Let’s pray that God will use us as His instruments to show his love and mercy to all sinners, including ourselves, and to welcome home the lost to be in union with God as One Big Happy Family.  Lord have mercy on us all.