Reflections on the Readings
September 15, 2013 - 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time- Year C
A Mission of Mercy
The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that 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. - St. Paul
A Personal Testimony
Paul's personal testimony is as rich as his personal attacks on Christ were derisive. His conversion and testimony about Christ touches even the most reluctant as revealed by King Agrippa's words to Paul, "In a short time you think to make me a Christian!" (Acts 26:28)
Speaking of Christ, Paul says, "I blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him." Acting ignorantly and in unbelief, yet Paul received mercy. Two times in this second reading Paul says, "But I received mercy." On his way to Damascus Paul seethed with boisterous threats and arrogant words to take no disciple of Jesus alive. But in a blinding light of the glory of Jesus, Paul met Mercy himself. And in that moment Jesus had only one question for him: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"
Chief of sinners! Numeral uno! The sinner of all sinners! That's how Paul saw himself. Of all the sinners in all the world, Paul realized just how merciful Christ had been to him. And if that could happen to him, he thought, then no one is outside of the saving reach of Jesus.
It's fun to look at pictures of houses before and after remodeling. Or even pictures of people before and after a makeover. That's how Paul asks us to see him. We are to understand and see Paul before mercy and after mercy. What a difference mercy makes. Encountering Christ Paul fell head over heels in love with Jesus. Forever grateful for the mercy that found him and saved him, Paul remained a follower of Jesus to the day some Roman official decapitated him. I can imagine Paul praying just before the sword met his neck, "When I behaved without mercy, Jesus had mercy on me. Into your merciful care I offer myself up to you and ask you to have mercy on this man ready to execute me!"
I think everyone ought to try to write out their personal testimony. It is good to try to put into words what's in your heart. And writing out your testimony of faith in Christ is a good way to do that. A heartfelt and personal reflection about Christ and his love for you is an excellent way to be a witness for Jesus too. As we read in the Gospel today, Jesus is a friend of sinners, the best friend ever! Just think a moment about what it means to be outside of God's mercy and then to be scooped up in its unrelenting flow. Tell that story. Tell your story. Your family will love you for it and someone just might get to heaven because you told your story of faith in Christ.
Lost and Found
I'm sure Paul would join us in singing, "Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found; was blind but now I see." Jesus uses pictures from everyday life. His stories about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost boy illustrate how eminently valuable we are to Him.
A lost coin was about a day's wages. It was a real crunch in the family budget to lose a coin. So we can understand the joy and excitement about telling the family and friends about finding the lost coin. The lady of the house demonstrated a heart of patience and perseverance to find that valuable coin. That's a picture of God's relentless love. It is the love Moses reflects on in his intercessory dialogue with God regarding his wayward people in today's first reading. Perhaps God expressed his displeasure with Israel's straying heart with a particular intensity to see if Moses would remember that God surely could not forget the people engraved on the palms of his holy hands. (Isaiah 49:16) Like this woman, God will be patient and persevering towards his people whenever they have lost their way.
A shepherd spared no effort to find a lost sheep and to bring it back to the fold. Keeping watch over the flock and its welfare is a priority for the shepherd. And isn't that a picture of God's heart about us. He is not willing that any should perish but that all should attain life through repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
And then the lost boy. Not a day goes by but that this daddy looks down the road to see if perhaps his lost son is coming home. Days become weeks and weeks become years. Sometimes years become decades. But the daily ritual of standing at the gate and gazing as far down the road as the eye can imagine is a picture of God's watchful care for us. So rich and merciful is this watchfulness that Paul says emphatically that Jesus came into the world to save sinners. No kinder intention could the world ever know. And for over two thousand years this intention of Christ has grown richer, fuller, and deeper in the imagination of the Church.
Leave the Light of Mercy On!
Jesus sat down with sinners and ate with them. As we mix and mingle among the lost may we be like that woman who is patient and persevering. Let us not spare any effort to find the sheep that is lost and bring him or her back to the Church. And always may we be like that father who keeps the door of the house open so that our lost sons and daughters will feel welcome and wanted upon their return. There's nothing that says, "Welcome! Come on in!" like a light left on and the door unlocked. That's the Church of the 21st century. An inviting and open house of refuge and rest and of starting again.
In its infancy, the Church understood that Jesus came into the world to save sinners. This understanding was deeply entrenched in the consciousness of the first century followers of Christ. Their place and purpose in the world was defined and inspired by this rich appreciation and praise for him who died upon the Cross. They found themselves unafraid in the face of sometimes intense persecution because they found a refuge in the Christ they served and proclaimed. Early in the life of the Church there was vast misunderstanding and deeply held contortions about who Christians were and what it was they believed. But through it all, they saw themselves as we should see ourselves, as new creations in Christ Jesus. May we accept our place in the mission of mercy, the very ministry of Jesus, who came into the world to seek and to save the lost. Sinners like you and me. Amen.
Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com