The Sunday Project
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time |
By Jordan Kennedy
The LORD said to Moses,
"Go down at once to your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt,
for they have become depraved. They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them, making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it, sacrificing to it and crying out, 'This is your God, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!'
"I see how stiff-necked this people is, " continued the LORD to Moses.
Let me alone, then, that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them. Then I will make of you a great nation."
But Moses implored the LORD, 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 such great power and with so strong a hand? Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and how you swore to them by your own self, 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.'"
So the LORD relented in the punishment he had threatened to inflict on his people.
I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me trustworthy
in appointing me to the ministry. 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. This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost. But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life. To the king of ages, incorruptible, invisible, the only God,
honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them he addressed this parable.
“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? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.
“Or what woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it? And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’ In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Then he said, “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.
When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’
So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him,
and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began.
Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house,
he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns, who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’"
In reflecting on this week’s Gospel from Luke, I thought of a moment I had with a friend a few years ago, in which she shared with me an Afghan proverb: “If you feel far from God, who moved?”
For our communities, it can sometimes feel as though God is the one moving away from us. When I heard that proverb, I had not been to church in many years. I left Catholicism after awakening to my own sexual orientation and realizing that the Church, as I understood it then, had no place for me. I felt rejected by our Creator and rejected by the people entrusted to tend to the flock. I watched from afar and wondered, “Do they even know I’m gone? Do they care?”
When I heard that proverb, I thought first, “Of course I moved. I was pushed away,” and then, “Ouch...yeah.”
While this ancient wisdom cannot quite encapsulate the nuance of being far from God or the feelings so many of us have had when we have been squeezed or forced out of our faith communities, it does hold a deep and eternally sacred truth: God is never moving from us. Whether we move on our own, or whether we are pushed away, our God is there, anchored, never moving except towards us.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells the Parable of the Lost Sheep. I’d like to walk us through a few insights I had in preparing for this reflection. One of these is one I think we may miss, because it’s right in plain sight, and it is the simple fact that getting lost happens. Not a single one of us reading this now can say we haven’t been the lost sheep – and it doesn’t have to be that we’ve been lost to God or lost to our faith community. How many times have you felt adrift in work life, in our studies, or in a relationship? The first and foremost fact of this Gospel is that this sheep was lost.
The second is that not only does God not move away from us, he moves towards us! Jesus is letting us know through this parable that our Lord seeks the lost sheep until he finds it, and friends, two beautiful things happen when our Creator finds us in that lowly place. The first is that when He finds us, he holds us up. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy.” (Lk 15:5) Not only do God, and our Brother Christ rejoice at finding us, the lost ones, we are held up by their love, by their presence, and by the affirmation that in the wilderness, in our darkest night, we are being sought, we are being beckoned, and someone is looking for us, calling us home.
Beloved, let us remember also that when that lost sheep was found, it was brought back to the flock. This tells us two things. 1.) not only are we sought after, we are also brought back into community by the One who seeks us and 2.) we belong to the flock, even if some of the flock may sneer at us or chastise us for who and how we love or express our sacred selves. I believe that Jesus gave us this parable to let us know that we are the flock, whoever we are, the world over! We, in all of our queer and trans beauty, are the flock. We are the Church. We are set upon God’s shoulders with shouts of joy as he says to the ninety-nine, “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.” (Lk 15:6)
Our God is a mighty God, is a compassionate and concerned Shepherd who seeks every member of His flock. Where are you now? Are you off in the weeds? Are you among the flock? If you’re able, take a few moments to note where you are. How can you move closer to God today? How is God calling out to you through the everyday moments that may pass us by? Note the beautiful sunset, the much-needed talk with a friend, the kind smile from a stranger and know that God was there for all of it, always calling us home. And friends, one more thing: if there were no smiles today, or no sunsets, or no good talks, if you are in the darkest place, the Good Shepherd was there most of all. When the Pharisees of our days are loud with demands to know why we have been welcomed, lean into this parable and know we are invited in by the One whose welcome matters most.