Fr. Jerome Machar, OCSO
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Exodus 32: 7-11, 13-14; 1 Timothy 1: 12-17; Luke 15: 1-32
Fifteen years ago, the world was shocked at the sight of planes flying into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York. Later, clouds of smoke billowed from the Pentagon and from a field in Shanksville, Pa. The reality of these attacks cut through our petty narcissism and opened our hearts to the needs of others. For a moment, we saw the true greatness that America stands for. As we recall the acts of terrorism, we must never forget the acts of valor and generosity they evoked. I am reminded of a line in Alan Jay Lerner’s musical Camelot, “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.”
Unfortunately, we have forgotten. Once the dust cleared, we forgot about the needs of others and sought to make our personal worlds secure. We seem to have lost sight of the fact that the path to true peace requires each of us to lay or lives in the service of others. Despite the fact that we have built monuments to 9/11 we have not been able to build bridges of peace and brotherhood.
In this setting, the conversation between God and His Servant Moses is very instructive. Certainly, you recall how God pointed out to Moses that the people had forsaken Him and as a result He intended to wipe them out and start all over again. Seeing how corrupt the people had become in such a short time, God pronounced a verdict of total destruction. Standing in the breech, Moses speaks up. Forgive me for what I am about to do. “O Lord, you seem to have forgot that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.” Moses reminded God of His covenant with the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Israel. If the Lord would be forgiving in this instance, He would see that there would be a faithful remnant.
Paul seems to have taken up this theme as he wrote to his co-worker Timothy. “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” (1 Tim. 1:16). The apostle knew well that had God not been merciful to him, he would have perished. God is not ignorant of the reality of sin. He also knows that love is stronger than hate; and that the Cross is the Tree of Life. The Son of God who died on the cross has risen from the dead and reigns upon the throne of Glory. We must never let it be forgot that once there was a spot where the Lord of Life conquered death and brought us all into the kingdom of light and life. Recall these words written by the apostle John: “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the Spirit who is in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4).
In the lengthy reading from the Gospel of Luke, we have heard about God’s desire to seek out, to find, to welcome. The philosopher Maimonides seems to have understood the power of God’s mercy. He wrote: “let not a penitent man imagine that he is far from the Excellency, because of the sins he has committed, the thing is not so. Rather, he is beloved and desired before the Creator, as if he had never sinned; for his reward is great; for lo, he has tasted the taste of sin, and hath separated from it.” We must never let it be forgot, that the Gospel presents mercy as an excess of God’s love for a fallen and broken world. The mercy of God expands our souls. It makes us think of that spot that was Camelot, for us. God, in His mercy, draws us to himself, purifies us of our sins and then sends us forth to bring mercy to all. Because we have received mercy upon mercy, we can seek to pour out our lives in service to others and as agents of peace and reconciliation. Our ability to live as Children of the Kingdom springs from the fact that we are at one and the same time sinners pardoned and sinners restored to dignity. The mercy of God brings knowledge and compassion. The one who shows us mercy conforms us to the image of His Beloved Son. As we receive the mercy of the Loving Father, we are empowered to share it with others.
For a moment, the events September 11, 2001, brought us into contact with our own fragility and vulnerability. For a moment we remembered that we needed one another. The scriptures remind us that we are the objects of God’s delight. “God saw everything that He had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Gen. 1: 31). The reason we believe in a kind and merciful God is because Jesus not only told us, but acted mercifully. Like the God who repeatedly forgave the erring Israelites, Jesus always acted mercifully towards those who came to him. We are invited to embrace the truth that we are Beloved of God and cause of His joy. When we return to the Father and repent, do we get what we deserve? No. When we return to the Father, we get what He offers us — Forgiveness. My brothers and sisters, don’t let it be forgot that once there was a spot… that was known as Calvary.