This is the third week of a series we are calling, have mercy on us. We see this pleading before Jesus by ten lepers who are looking for something from Jesus that will make their lives better. The series will look at the way Jesus challenges us to be disciples and how without realizing it we depend on the mercy of God.
We are a people who demand justice. As young children we learn what is fair and what is not fair almost from the moment we can speak. If our little brother gets something better than us, we immediately point out to our parents, that “it is not fair.” Justice is being fair. If we drive too fast and are pulled over by law enforcement, justice demands we receive a ticket. However, many of us in that situation seek some sort of mercy. Let the infraction be overlooked and let us go on our way as if nothing ever happened.
In this series we will look at the ways we need mercy, receive mercy and depend on mercy in the context of the Sunday readings. We will look at the teachings from the readings and then apply what we are called to live against the mercy of God. We want God to be just for sure, but we discover it is God’s mercy we truly desire.
Two weeks ago the readings pointed us toward the cross. Jesus spoke about being a disciple which puts the cross front and center. To be a disciple we must carry our cross and come after Jesus. In the Wisdom of Solomon we saw the image of Wisdom becoming human, taking up the cross and demonstrating mercy and love for all humanity. Paul gave an example of self-sacrifice, releasing the slave Onesimus back to his owner with the request he be treated with love and mercy. The cross is an image that reflects mercy from God, it is God’s love for us and all humanity.
Last week the readings focused on finding the lost. We read about the Hebrew nation turning from God while in the desert, but God forgiving and working for their return. We also read about Paul’s thankfulness upon conversion, he was lost and found. Jesus taught on seeking the lost in several parables, all making the point that finding one lost is a great cause for celebration in heaven. God places great importance on finding the lost. No matter what we have done while away from God, rejoining God comes with celebration and happiness through the mercy of God.God places great importance on finding the lost. No matter what we have done while away from God, rejoining God comes with celebration and happiness through the mercy of God. Click To Tweet
The readings this week point to Jesus giving himself as ransom for all. We have three readings that point to the need to be ransomed. Amos condemned certain people for trampling on the poor and needy; they can expect the Lord’s judgement. They will eventually be ransom by Christ. Paul teaches about the one God and Jesus the mediator who came to be ransom for all. Finally, we read of a steward who tries to save himself through shrewd business dealings but in the end we know that he too is someone who needs to be ransomed. God in his mercy has the ransom for all, the one mediator, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as ransom for all.
The readings this week are from the Lectionary for the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time; Amos 8:4-7; Psalms 113:1-2, 4-6, 7-8; 1 Timothy 2:1-8; Luke 16:1-13. The readings guide us to focus on the ransom that God has orchestrated for all, so that all may get the help needed to live life eternally.
In the first reading from the prophet Amos we read a warning to the people against their injustices of the poor and needy. The prophet denounces the injustices and further says the day of the Lord is coming. He is proclaiming Israel’s rottenness has run its course, and the word goes on to read nothing can be done about it now; so he exhorts those to wait for the day of the Lord’s judgement. The injustices that those who are prosperous put on those in need, fraud and exploitation of others when they are suffering need, will be judged. We should not be dedicated to the accumulation of money while others struggle, even taking advantage of their struggle. It is declared in Amos’ opening “you who trample the needy and destroy the poor of the land.” But rather than destroy everyone and everything Amos prophesizes a day of the Lord; “the sun set at midday and in broad daylight covers the land with darkness.” (Amos 8:9) This can be seen as the day and time when Jesus dies. All will be dark and the Word of God gone quiet, the day when God gave himself as the ransom for many. Rather than destroy, God leads a transformation, teaching how to welcome the needy and share riches with one another. God even sacrifices himself so that all in need, all who have a famine of the truth, the word, can be rescued and shown a way that recognizes all life is precious, all people important and loved and are much more important than wealth or accumulation. Amos is one of the early prophets who warns that the way of trampling on the poor and needy is not welcome, but God will send a teacher who will show the best way, his Son who is ransom for all.God sacrifices himself so that all in need, all who have a famine of the truth, the word, can be rescued and shown a way that recognizes all life is precious, all people important and loved. Click To Tweet
In the second reading Paul is writing about prayer and one mediator between God and humankind, Christ. Paul writes he was appointed preacher and apostle to share this truth. We all need prayer, including leaders who most likely were against Christ and the movement of this new Christian community. At the time of this writing there were many religions with multiple gods, but Paul is declaring there is one God and Christ is the one who tells humanity about God and God about humanity. Christ has this role as mediator because he is the one who ransomed himself for all. It was Christ who was with God in the beginning who entered humanity at the proper time to make us aware of the love God has for us and to tell us how deeply we are loved by God. Paul indicates the path to help others understand God and Christ, our ransom, is to pray for people. Paul mentions, prayer of supplications; prayer with a specific need, general prayers; a more general term which can include the others, petitions; also known as intercession, asking, begging something from God and thanksgivings; in all things we should be grateful and rejoice. Paul wants us to understand the significance of prayer, God wants to answer our prayers and through Christ we are saved because of his stepping into humanity and becoming our ransom.It was Christ who was with God in the beginning who entered humanity at the proper time to make us aware of the love God has for us and to tell us how deeply we are loved by God. Click To Tweet
In the gospel from Luke we read Jesus telling the story of a prudent steward. He is called dishonest but in some ways has found respect by the rich man of the story and perhaps Jesus himself. The steward is reported squandering the property of the rich man and is called to make a full accounting. Knowing he is caught, the steward works with those who owe the rich man, reducing their promises. After reducing what they owe, the debtors owe the steward a favor and perhaps see him compassionately. It appears the steward is lining up potential friends or favors once he loses his role in the rich man’s employment. It is not clear if the steward is trimming his “taxable” portion off the debt or if he was truly reducing the money owed the rich man. In the first case, reducing the debt by the amount the steward would receive there is no impact on what is owed the rich man, the master of the property. So when the master commends the dishonest steward he sees him as shrewd, doing what he can to make a life going forward, including the fact the rich man will likely not lose any of the debt owed him. Jesus might be saying there will be dishonesty in the world and maneuvering in the dishonesty can have benefit for those who will eventually turn to God for restoration. We never hear how things turn out for the dishonest but prudent steward, however, Jesus telling the story certainly indicates there is some lesson to be learned. I choose to see the steward doing the best he can but ultimately he can not do it alone, he needs to be ransomed.
We see in all three of these stories ransom is needed for all. The people living in prosperous times taking advantage of the poor and needy as told by Amos are looking at condemnation and destruction. However we are left with the impression God steps in and saves them. Paul is addressing prayer, one God and that he is appointed preacher and apostle to speak to those who don’t know the one God or how to pray. Essentially Paul is an apostle to those who need to be ransomed. Finally in the story of the steward we see a man who needs ransoming, although he tries to do some things to save himself, it is not really possible that he could be saved without some help. So he too is a man who needs to be ransomed.
Jesus gave himself as the ransom for all, he doesn’t pick and choose who the ransom shall effect. God the Father and Christ the Son know that all people will need help to be saved, to be restored back to the Father. Without Christ serving as ransom for all we don’t know who to turn to for life. God is a God of mercy and knows from the beginning that people will do things that are not perfect and ransoming them will be necessary. So God in his mercy makes Christ available as ransom for all.
Have mercy on us – ransom for all
They idea of being ransomed seems premature when it comes to each of us. To be ransomed is to have us freed or released by making a payment to some captor. But do we feel captured? Are we in need of ransom? God knows it is in our nature to sin, to do wrong, to push ourselves away from God. Sin really means we are separated from God. We tend to do things we think are good but ultimately are not the best for us. Ultimately our sin is putting ourselves selfishly before all others. For God, others always come first, God never acts for his own benefit, God always acts for the benefit of others. If we are doing the opposite then the natural move for us and God is away from one another.God never acts for his own benefit, God always acts for the benefit of others. If we are doing the opposite then the natural move for us and God is away from one another. Click To Tweet
God is a God of infinite mercy and so forgives our sin without demanding justice or payment. But, we need proof. We can’t accept that we can be freed or forgiven without doing something on our part, without making restitution. So God proves we are loved, provides for our ransom, payment made to be restored from sin, hoping then we will accept forgiveness. We will believe since some payment has been made to reconcile the relationship that we are back in right relationship with God and can begin anew with God’s love working to keep us close.We will believe since some payment has been made to reconcile the relationship that we are back in right relationship with God and can begin anew with God’s love working to keep us close. Click To Tweet
Jesus is the ransom. Jesus entered humanity, lived with us and in the end dies and is resurrected to be the ransom to restore our relationship with God. It is a demonstration of love. God will do anything to show love, Jesus the Son of God is a demonstration of love. Jesus did not actually have to die for God to forgive us, God could have just forgiven us. But, God demonstrates his love through action. So Jesus lives in humanity, likely not an easy first step for the Son of God, he lives the perfect life, a life God would want all humans to live, and then he dies at the hands of those who feel threatened by his life only to be resurrected and meet us all again. Resurrection by Jesus establishes resurrection for all of us. Jesus life and death proves Gods love for all of us and is the ransom paid for us to know the love of God.Jesus life and death proves Gods love for all of us and is the ransom paid for us to know the love of God. Click To Tweet
Ransom paid does two things; it gives the captor something to free the person held captive and it tells the person captive that they are valued and loved. God makes a statement about our value by sending the person most valuable to him as ransom, his Divine Son. We are so important to God and to his Son Jesus that God makes the most substantial act even before we are aware we need ransoming. To further prove his love God enacts forgiveness without demanding repentance, we don’t even have to be seeking forgiveness or be contrite.
We find in religion we are given many laws that we must follow and by following we believe we are good or at least we are doing good. We do need law because it provides the framework for beginning. We use the law to get on a path that leads concretely to the freedom of God. To be free in God is about having an experience of God. A spirit that liberates us from profound anxiety and from our endless feelings of guilt. If we are truly free in God than we accept who we are in God and don’t feel we have to live by law or someone else’s definition of who we should be. Thus Christian’s believe following the law will give us this freedom, but in fact it is only the beginning, the framework.If we are truly free in God than we accept who we are in God and don’t feel we have to live by law or someone else’s definition of who we should be. Click To Tweet
Freedom is actually having an inner experience of God. Trying to follow the law can become a source of deeper anxiety because following the law does not transform us. It is impossible to follow the law without being united with God, things like loving our enemy, humility, putting others first are impossible without God’s help. Therefore we end up trivializing the law so we can follow; attend Mass every week, don’t eat meat on Friday, some even believe not getting to mass on time is breaking the law. But this law can do nothing for making us free in God, it simply provides us a false sense of being good or feeling guilty. We prefer a performance model, we want to be judged based on doing good. But we discover that we are who we are based on whose we are, that we are God’s.
Paul speaking of the law and sin indicates he does the things he does not want to do. He has a struggle in which he wants to do good but there is a war within him that does what he does not want to do. Paul positions decision making between the law of God and the law of sin. “I myself with my mind, serve the law of God, but with my flesh, the law of sin.” (Romans 7:25) Using the word flesh, Paul means his mortal body that asserts itself against the will of God, the will seeks to be good but someone he is dragged to sinfulness. It is the human nature with an inability to do good. Without God, we cannot follow the law, we cannot do all good.
Paul says sin takes advantage of the law to accomplish its own purpose. Paul obeyed the law and discovered he was committing sin. He was a Pharisee that followed every law and yet put Christians to death. He wasn’t even aware of the sin he was committing. It is as if sin exists within and takes control, the sin which dwells within has an overpowering effect on the human will, and so we do what it is we do not want to do. Paul says it, “What I do, I do not understand, for I do not do what I want but I do what I hate.” (Romans 7:15)
We can almost imagine sin that dwells within us has a purpose. We discover through our sinning that we cannot defeat it on our own. It is like an addict who tries to quit their addiction without outside help. Paul even says he is at war with the law of God and the law of the mind (sin) taking him captive to the law of sin that dwells within. (cf. Romans 7:23) Is Paul saying we are taking captive by sin? If so we have a God who has offered ransom for all. God knowing we could not defeat sin on our own, gave us Christ to help us become free, ransomed and valued. “Christ who ransomed us from the curse of the law … “ (Galatians 3:13) Paul is not saying those who keep the law are cursed but depending on the results of following the law is a curse. As we have seen following the law can result in sin. If we extend it to Paul’s use of “the law of sin” we need to be ransomed, Christ freeing us to be God’s, not believing we can use law on our own to be good.
God can use all things to bring us to God, even sin. Sin is seen as a stumbling stone, it can be a scandal, it trips us up. When we sin we think we can do no good and even begin to think we are no good. But God can take advantage of our sin to let us know he is there to catch us when we stumble. When we sin and take stock of what has happened we realize we are unable to free ourselves from the curse of the law of sin, unable to free ourselves from doing the things we do not want to do. God has an answer for us, we has us ransomed in Christ Jesus. But it is not about forgiveness totally, God wants us to know we are forgiven but he also wants us to know our value and that we are important to him. God will always be with us, when we stumble God is always there to catch us, always there to help us defeat sin, always there to unite with us, always there so we can be free in God.God will always be with us, when we stumble God is always there to catch us, always there to help us defeat sin, always there to unite with us, always there so we can be free in God. Click To Tweet
Defeating sin doesn’t come from following law but from being in relationship with God. Once ransomed God wants us to be close to him, to be free in him. This is available for all, for all are ransomed in Christ, thanks to the mercy of God.
God’s mercy comes from God’s seeing our value in his eyes, leading to his great love for us. God ransomed us even before we are aware we need to be ransomed. God is doing all he can to enter into a loving relationship with us. God knows we could not defeat sin on our own, and made the path that we have help and a partner in defeating the things we do not want to do. God’s mercy leads God to even find ways to use sin to bring us back to God. When we stumble God wants to help us back up. God is a friend who walks into sin with us and leads us out. There is no ransom that is too much for God, God will always free us and stand with us going forward, we only need to accept God’s ransom.God is a friend who walks into sin with us and leads us out. There is no ransom that is too much for God. Click To Tweet