24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15: 1-32
As I reflected on today’s first reading, I couldn’t help but see the similarities between Moses’ times and ours. The recently liberated slaves had committed the greatest possible scandal by turning to the golden calf. In our time, men and women of God have abused their pastoral responsibility by taking advantage of the people they were supposed to serve. In our time, bishops attempted to preserve the idol of the church’s reputation by covering up known wrongdoing. At the thought of the pain of the victims and of the confusion and outrage plaguing the members of the Body of Christ, my heart aches. Mindful of the frailty and sinfulness of the People of God, we need to learn from Moses, the great teacher and law-giver.
Victims abused by men and women of God as well as believers frustrated by the inadequacy of their bishops could, no doubt, easily identify with God’s sentiments. “Let me alone so that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them.” It is easy to think that the shame and confusion of abuse would go away if the perpetrators were consumed by God’s burning rage. The anger and outrage caused by the inept actions of their bishops would be satisfied if the inept bishops were cast into the all-consuming fire of divine justice. For those who have been victimized and who feel betrayed, punishment and retribution sound right, Right? After all, isn’t sin the corruption of the sinner? Isn’t sin turning away from the path to life? It only makes sense to cauterize the wound and if necessary to amputate the affected limb.
The Psalmist wrote: “God was determined to exterminate the people. But Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach between the Lord and his people to turn his fierce anger from destroying them” (Ps. 106:23). This breach is the gap that exists between God’s holiness and His People’s sin. Israel’s disobedience produced a tear in the fabric of God’s loving-kindness. Looking down from the heights, Moses could see the great divide between God’s love for Israel and Israel’s refusal to be loved by God. He recognized it as an extension of the breach that came into being when Adam and Eve fell from grace. Moses merely reminded God that the slaves the Lord had led out of Egypt were the offspring of Adam and Eve. Recall these words taken from the 51st Psalm: “I have sinned and done wrong since the day I was born. I was sinful from the moment my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5). Moses stepped into the breach for Israel’s good and for God’s glory. This great prophet and teacher of the law echoes this verse from Ps. 100: “Oh God it is You who made us and consequently we belong to You. These are Your people, the sheep of Your flock” (CF. Ps. 100:3).
Jesus Christ, the Beloved Son of God leaped down from His heavenly throne to stand in the breach. He who did not know sin took upon himself all the sins of mankind so as to bridge the gap. By His torn and wounded flesh, we are made whole. His cross bridges the divide between God’s will and our willfulness. By his death he destroyed death and by his resurrection he restored us to life. He stands in the breach to make intercession for us. With his outstretched arms He draws us to His Sacred Heart. There we come to know the joy of love’s embrace in the communion of the Blessed Trinity. Having been grafted to Christ, we are called to stand with him in the breach to offer prayers with him to the Father on behalf of everyone in need of mercy. Saint Paul wrote: “I am glad that I can suffer for you in my body. It is then that I participate in the sufferings of Christ that continue for the sake of his body, the church” (Col. 1:24). Just as Moses stood in the breach for his people, we are called to stand in the breach to intercede on behalf of our family, friends, and church. Like the Psalmist, we throw ourselves into the hands of God, asking Him to create a new heart in each of us (CF. Ps. 51:10). Especially in times of distress, we need to remind ourselves that God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son into the world to bring sinners to the fullness of life.
Faith tells us that the Son of God laid down his life in order to heal the breach between heaven and earth and to make straight the path of life for all people. We are his people. We are the work of his hands. The Parable of the lost coin compares God to a woman who loses a coin and searches her house until she finds it. Even though the coin was of no great value the woman scours the house until she finds it. With that same intent, God sent his Son into the world to search out and find every lost soul. We may just be clay vessels, but we are precious in His eyes. We have been purchased at a great price, the blood of the spotless lamb. Like the woman in the parable, God does not dispassionately accept the loss of even one person. Having been found by the loving God they find their resting place in his nail-scarred palm.
In the context of the parable of the coin, we are not talking about a cursory, disinterested search. No, we are talking about an all-out intensive meticulous search that doesn’t end until the lost coin is found. With brush in hand, God our Loving Father gets down on his hands and knees and carefully inspects every nook and cranny in the house. God is intent on finding this lost coin because everyone he created is precious to him. He is almost miserly in his pursuit in that the individual who falls from his hand is the sole object of his search. He refuses to give up the search until He has found the lost coin. With great effort, he joyfully reunites the estranged individual to the community. More than that, the finding and the reconciliation have to be celebrated. The breach in the community has been healed and the alienation of the members has been overcome. Nothing can distract God from his will of universal salvation.
God is a poor loser. He does not suffer the loss of even one measly coin. He is vigilant and watchful lest even one be lost. Discovering the lack, He goes out and searches for the one that slipped away from Him. This is the message of today’s parable. God loves us, each and everyone, even when we may not feel lovable. Each of us is precious in his eyes and we belong to him, even when we sin. God is concerned about us and cares for us with a Father’s love, especially when we find ourselves lost in the valley of darkness. “The Church, despite all of the sluggishness, infidelities, errors, and sins that are committed and are still being committed by her members, has no other meaning or purpose than to live and witness to Jesus: he who has been sent by Abba, ‘to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord’ (Lk 4:18-19)” (Pope Francis).