Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 11, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Ex 32:7-11, 13-14 / Ps 51 / 1 Tm 1:12-17 / Lk 15:1-32
by Rev. Nixon Negparanon, Pastor
Today’s readings from the Holy Scriptures teach us about the overflowing mercy and forgiveness of God. They also talk about sin and repentance, confession, and communion, courtesy of the prodigal son and his father.
We heard in the First Reading that when Moses was on Mount Sinai, the chosen people were acting perversely. They had cast for themselves an image of a cow, were worshipping and making sacrifices to it, and giving credit to the idol for bringing them out of slavery in the land of Egypt. With that, the Lord became very upset. God was prepared to destroy them all. But Moses implored God to have mercy and forgiveness for the sinful people. Hearing the plea of Moses, God changed His mind and decided not to destroy the people as He had originally planned.
In the Second Reading, we also heard how the mercy and forgiveness of God sanctified St. Paul, because he had sincerity of heart. By the mercy of God, St. Paul, formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence, was made an example to those who would come to believe in Jesus for eternal life.
Today’s gospel also speaks of the mercy and forgiveness of God. In this case, three parables are given to declare the magnitude of the mercy of God. These are the parables of the lost sheep, of the lost coin, and of the Prodigal Son. Many tax collectors and sinners came to Jesus, and this drew criticism on the part of the Pharisees and the Scribes. They grumbled because Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them.
Brothers and Sisters, let us meditate on the parable of the Prodigal Son. The parable begins with a request. The prodigal son says to his father, “Father, give me the share of the estate that should come to me.” Here we are given our first insight concerning sin: Sin always involves the misuse of something good.
For example, sins of the tongue, like gossip, slander, swearing, and lying, all involve the misuse of something good: namely, the God-given gift of speech. Sins of the flesh are committed when people misuse the good gift of sexuality, which the Lord intends for marriage only.
Notice that in the story, the younger son requested the share of the estate that was coming to him. He was not making an improper request. He was not asking for something evil. He was requesting something good, which his father was planning to give him anyway. His sin came when he misused the good gift and squandered his inheritance on what the gospel calls “dissolute living,” a life of dissipation.
The next interesting point is that he does all this squandering in a distant land. I don’t think that was a coincidence. When people commit sins that they intend to repent of, they desperately try to run away from the Heavenly Father, just like this boy tried to run away from his father. Those of us who commit sins make every effort to keep them secret, so that nobody knows about them. But that is a very big mistake because, eventually, all sins catch up with us, as the boy’s sins eventually caught up with him. In the parable we are told that he spent all his money, and then a famine broke out, and he found himself with nothing to eat. He ended up dining with pigs.
There we have another insight concerning sin: Sin turns us into slaves. This is something that people who have an addiction know a great deal about. A recovering alcoholic will tell you that when he started to drink excessively, he was acting in total freedom. But eventually it came to the point where he could not stop. He had become a slave to his sinful behavior.
Finally, praise God, the prodigal son wakes up and comes to his senses. He repents, but notices that his repentance is rather superficial. He has what the Church would call “imperfect contrition.” Imperfect contrition is when we are sorry for our sins because we fear the consequences, especially Hell. Perfect contrition is when we are sorry for the best possible reason: because we have offended our Heavenly Father, whom we love above all things. But notice that his father still forgives him. The Church teaches us that our Father will do the same for us. He will forgive us our serious sins if we go to Confession with at least imperfect contrition in our hearts.
Once the prodigal son is forgiven, he is able to share once again in the family meal. For us, that is symbolic of the Eucharist. That is why the Church teaches us that, if we have mortal sin, we cannot receive the Eucharist again until we have gone to Confession and confessed our sin.
The Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium, has a beautiful description of sin: Sin is before all else an offense against God and a rupture in our communion with Him. At the same time, it damages communion with the Church. For this reason, conversion entails both God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with the Church, which are expressed and accomplished liturgically by the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.
Mother Theresa had advice for living a good life. She said:
People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of having selfish ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you. Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
So, as we continue our Eucharistic celebration today, let us pray for those who have fallen away from the grace of God, so that divine mercy and forgiveness may reach out to them before it’s too late. May their ears be open so that they will hear that Jesus is welcoming them back home.