Archbishop Follo: God is Freedom, Joy, Love, Gift and Mercy
September 13, 2019. With the wish to understand that mercy is a gift to receive and to share.
XXIV Sunday in Ordinary Time- Year C- September 15, 2019
Ex 32: 7-11, 13-14; Ps 51; 1 Tm 12-17; Lk 15:1-32
God seeks us to give us mercy
Third Sunday after Saint John’s Martyrdom
Is 43:24c-44,3; Ps 32; Heb 11:39-12:4; Jh 5:25-36
Christ’s actions testify that the Father has send Him
1) Sought by the Son as sinners and accepted by the Father as children in the Spirit
As a premise for the reflections on the three parables of mercy of today’s Gospel (the one of the lost sheep, the one of the lost coin and the one of the prodigal son), I’d like to propose this interpretation: each of us is the beloved lost sheep, the useful lost coin and the son who, in addition to throwing away the inheritance of the Father, has thrown away himself. The important thing is to understand that God seeks each of us. If we understand that each of us is loved and free in God, instead of running away, we will run towards him.
All three parables end speaking of happiness and joy because “there will be joy in heaven for one sinner who is converted rather than for ninety-nine just“. From what does this happiness of God come? From the love shared in a profound divine communion in the Trinity and in the love of mercy towards us, fragile creatures of clay, that the creative “hands” of God recreate paternally embracing us and welcoming us as children (adoptive, but true children) loved by Him whose “name is mercy” (Pope Francis whose magisterium on mercy is plentiful. Allow me to advise the reading of his Apostolic Letter Misericordia et Misera, of November 20, 2016).
Listening to today’s Gospel it almost seems to hear the voice of Jesus who reveals to us the face of his and our Father. He came into the world for this: to talk to us about the Father of infinite mercy, to make him known to us, lost children, and to revive in our hearts the joy of belonging to him, the hope of being forgiven and returned to our full dignity, and the desire to live forever in his home which is also our home and place of joy.
Indeed, thanks to his mercy we can enter the joy of the Kingdom of God. Let us share this mercy. Let us be craftsmen of consolation and peace growing in the awareness that Jesus watches over us with infinite compassion.
This compassion makes the Good Shepherd act with passion chasing his sheep in steppes and in stony ground. If we lose him, he never loses us. It is not the lost sheep that finds the shepherd, but it is she who is found. The sheep is not returning to the fold but is moving away from it. The shepherd does not punish the sheep, she is alive and that is enough. The shepherd loads the sheep on his back so that the return is less tiring. It is a beautiful image: God does not look at our guilt but at our weakness. He does not write final balances but estimates. God is a friend of life: Jesus heals the blind lame lepers not for them to become good observers. So much the better if it happens, but for them to become full, happy, fulfilled people, men finally promoted to men. Mercy is a gift and a forgiveness that transform our lives bringing it to fullness.
2) Good Shepherd’s mercy
In addition to giving his profound and beautiful teaching, Jesus’ parables show God’s point of view. This is what happens in today’s parables where Christ tells about the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son underlining the “heart of the Gospel” that is merciful love.
Already in the first parable, we can see a behavior that is not human, or better, senseless from a human point of view. To the question “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?” (Lk 15:4) we would respond “No one”. Which man of sense would leave 99 sheep alone in the desert and go after the lost one despite the danger of the desert at night?
The desert’s dangers are hunger, thirst, robbers, beasts, and loosing orientation in the darkness of the night, which makes it almost impossible to carry on the search. Christ the divine good shepherd is moved by a love that is humanly senseless but divinely logical. Therefore, he goes in search of us.
God continues the search for us from the time when man has hidden himself in the Garden of Eden and down into the netherworld. For Him, we have more value than himself so much so that He died for us.
We could say that our search for God starts when God had finished his, forgiving us and celebrating with us.
In the parable of the lost and found sheep, it is underlined that the shepherd doesn’t stop his search until the sheep is found. It is an obstinate and unflinching search and the shepherd is determined not to leave the sheep to its destiny. We understand that the shepherd’s decision was not senseless, on the contrary, it was a courageous one being born out of a courageous intelligence and of a heart that loves intensively.
This allows me to point out that this parable, like the two others, ends speaking of the joy of God for having found the sheep, the coin and the son “there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Lk 15:10)
Here, we can find two teachings. The first one is clear: to God’s eyes, man has a limitless value even and because he is a sinner. The second one is implicit: divine Joy “grows” with the found glory of just one sinner.
3) Maternal mercy
Similar in essence is the second parable, the one of the lost drachma.
Here too the search for what has been lost is carried out in a methodical way. The woman lights the lamp and puts it in the best position, then sweeps slowly and with a lot of attention the entire house, and searches with care until she finds the lost coin. When she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors so that they can rejoice with her for the “coin lost and found”. If in the first parable that narrates of the Shepherd (that in the Jewish world meant also the King) we can see the ” pastoral” love of the one who guides, in the second parable we see the “eager” love of the mother that turns upside-down the “world” to search for the “treasure” that is the reason of her life, her son.
A woman, a mother, very well know the value of a son and, in this parable, we see that she represents God who with infinite motherly and paternal love, “does his utmost” to search the precious lost coin.
We find an example of this in the consecrated Virgins. They are called to motherly “do the utmost of themselves” begging forgiveness for the sinners, offering their prayer in intercession (RCV 28) for the lost ones, above all for the ones who have lost faith in the divine mercy, and taking the everlasting forgiving love of God where they live and work.
4) Paternal mercy
Here is the third parable. If for a coin and for a sheep there is celebration in heaven, you can very well imagine how happy is God when the ‘found one’ is a man, a lost and found son.
This son, called prodigal because he has wasted the paternal inheritance and now is extremely poor and hungry. He is ‘lost’. He has lost the knowledge of the beauty of his identity. He has lost the joyful memory of the father’s face and of his mercy. This page of the Gospel is an announcement that carries joy for us: when we feel of being ‘lost’, let’s give ourselves to the one who is searching for us and let’s trust his great love. This is the Father’s will. We are precious to His eyes.
In this context we understand the meaning of the reading from the Exodus (Roman Rite): the people of Israel, liberated from slavery, often forget God up to the point of “making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it and sacrificing to it.” For this, they should deserve God’s punishment, but the master forgives them because of the moving and profound prayer of intercession of Moses. In the same way, the apostle Paul (second reading) states that Jesus was born to save sinners. He feels himself a big sinner… however, he was pardoned.
Mercy is the expression of the omnipotence and of the infinite, tender, adult, caring and demanding the love of God: it is God’s image.
Let’s use often to the sacrament of Reconciliation that is the coming home of the prodigal son.
The experience of sin that is “to be lost” becomes the occasion for a more lasting and truer encounter with the God who “persecutes”[i]us with his merciful love and rejoices because he has found us.