This is our second week of a new six-week 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 for ourselves it is God’s mercy we truly desire.We want God to be just for sure, but we discover for ourselves it is God’s mercy we truly desire. Click To Tweet
Last week the readings pointed us toward the cross. In Jesus exhortation about what it takes to be a disciple he put 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 by releasing someone he needed back to his owner in a demonstration of love and mercy. The cross is a Christian image and it reflects mercy from God, it is God’s love for us and all humanity.
The readings this week have us looking at the lost. The first readings shows God’s forgiveness for a people who turn their back on God as soon as they can. Rather than destroying them God works to bring them back into relationship with him. Paul shares his own gratefulness for his conversion, recognizing he was lost and one of the biggest sinners against Jesus, but he becomes one of the foremost found by Jesus. In the gospel readings Jesus tells of a lost sheep, coin and son and shares the rejoicing that happens when one who is lost is found. God places great importance on finding the lost, providing examples of forgiveness and mercy. No matter what we have done while away from God, rejoining God comes with celebration and happiness through the mercy of God.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 are from the Lectionary for the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time; Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; Psalms 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32. The readings guide us to look at God’s dedicated focus to seek those who are lost, showing mercy regardless of any reason for moving away from God.
In the first reading from the Exodus we read the story of the people waiting for Moses deciding to build a golden calf, an idol to replace God. God aware of their defection tells Moses he is going to destroy them in a blaze and make a great nation for Moses. Moses pleads with God to reconsider, to remember the promise God made to their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, including multiplying their descendants. So God repents of the evil which he thought to do to the people. Moses returns from the mountain and makes them aware of their sinfulness and leads them to seek forgiveness from God. God does forgive them. The people are lost, God had chosen them and brought them out of slavery in Egypt but they didn’t know how to follow God or they weren’t quite ready to give their entire lives over to God. They were physically together but spiritually they require more awareness and faith. Thanks to God’s patience and the intervention of Moses they are able to take a step closer to God, turning away from their selfishness and entering into a renewed covenant with God. Lost people need help to find their way back to the place they belong. God in his mercy and forgiveness acts as a God ready to find the lost and guide them gently back to his care and love. He puts leaders in front of them who understand them and know that being with God is where they belong. There will still be difficulties with the Hebrew people but for the moment they are found.Lost people need help to find their way back to the place they belong. God in his mercy and forgiveness acts as a God ready to find the lost and guide them gently back to his care and love. Click To Tweet
In the second reading Paul is writing about his conversion from a Pharisee who was hunting Christians and condemning them to death, to becoming one of the most dedicated followers of Jesus. Paul considers the change in the course of his life by Jesus one filled with an abundance of grace. He says Christ came to save sinners and that he was the foremost sinner saved. Paul thinks Jesus is able to say Paul is an example, that Paul was lost and Jesus sought him out and found him. Paul was working against Jesus, in fact so much so that after his conversion other Christians didn’t believe Paul was truly converted and they still feared him as the man who condemned Christians. Paul is an example of Jesus seeking the lost, and rejoicing in bringing Paul to the place that allowed him to put all effort and work toward building Christian community. Jesus called Paul to be an apostle and Paul’s example shows that even those who have done the worst things; blasphemy, persecution and violence, will be forgiven and called to ministry for Christ. Paul’s life of violence and conversion to holiness and zeal demonstrates that those who would seem most lost have a place in the fold of Jesus. No one is too far lost that they can’t find their way to Jesus and become a proponent of all that Jesus stands to proclaim. Paul is forgiven and called an apostle, in so doing God shows his mercy is infinitely greater than any personal sin. God uses mercy to bring the lost home, and allow this mercy to be seen before all, such that others will know they too can be found and forgiven. Seeking the lost and showing mercy are paramount to the message of Jesus, whether it is for communities as with the Hebrew people in the first reading or for individuals as we see with Paul.Paul is an example of Jesus seeking the lost, and rejoicing in bringing Paul to the place that allowed him to put all effort and work toward building Christian community. Click To Tweet
In the gospel reading from Luke we read Jesus telling three stories of the lost being found. We read of a man who looses one of his ninety-nine sheep and leaves the ninety-nine to find the one. After finding the one he rejoices in a celebration. A woman loses one of her ten coins and she tears apart her home looking for the lost coin. Upon finding the coin she rejoices and throws a party to celebrate. We finally read of a man who has two sons, one wanted his inheritance and went off and squandered it all on silliness. Broken and desperate he comes to his senses and he returns to his father with a plan to beg his father to allow him to live as a servant. But Jesus tells of the father that runs to meet the son with compassion and immediately reinstates him as a son who was lost and is now found, dead and is now alive. In the story Jesus tells of a second son who remained with the father but is against the celebration for the returned son, seemingly jealous because the father so easily welcomed the son. The Father tries to convince the second son to join the party and celebrate the finding of his brother. Jesus never tells us if the son joins or not. Is Jesus letting us think this son is lost too?
We know from these three stories that the finding of the one lost sheep, coin, son leads to more rejoicing in heaven than over all that remained. For in heaven everyone is important, all who are lost are sought with great effort and anticipation. Being lost in the eyes of Jesus can be the most devastating news. The life of a follower of Jesus is filled with joy and happiness even though there will still be suffering and crosses to bear. Following Jesus makes life better and makes us better at life. So for Jesus there can be no greater mission than seeking the lost. To be lost for Jesus is like being dead, nonexistent. Every one created in the image of God is important to God and like a father who loves his children God will do anything to bring them home. It is why God’s system of judgement is mercy. We can not doubt, as is the case with Paul, forgiveness is first with God. And forgiveness comes with mercy. As a community of people we speak of justice and fairness, but God only delivers mercy. There is no reason to remain lost, God will show all mercy when those who are lost are found.We can not doubt, as is the case with Paul, forgiveness is first with God. And forgiveness comes with mercy. As a community of people we speak of justice and fairness, but God only delivers mercy. Click To Tweet
These readings have the powerful image of being lost and then found. The people in the desert lose their way but come back through their leaders and God’s forgiveness. Paul is working against God’s new covenant and is disrupted and turned so he is no longer lost but put on a path to grace. Jesus renders explicit the story of being lost and found as a significant cause for celebration for all those in heaven. We depend on the mercy of God for many things and no matter how far of field we may travel, once we find our way back to the life God intended for us, we can expect complete mercy and complete forgiveness. God wants us to be found so badly he is willing to forget all we have done that jeopardized life with God in the first place.
Have mercy on us – the lost
Jesus seems to do the opposite of what might be expected when it comes to the lost. We might think those who leave the group shouldn’t be chased after, they should be left to live and learn from their own mistake. Many times when someone leaves a group the members are hurt and offended by the person leaving. The group thinks it is doing good things, so who could dare to judge the group in such a way as to leave.
This is true of many churches. Many die-hard Roman Catholics think theirs is the one true church and anyone who leaves is making a mistake. Those on the inside will comment that the largest denomination in the United States is Roman Catholic and almost with as much pride the second largest is ex-Roman Catholics. Even in light of the sex abuse scandal many Roman Catholic leaders can’t understand how somebody could leave the church as if leaving the Roman Catholic Church is leaving Christ. Others simply deny there is even a problem, the sex abuse scandal was something that occurred years ago, and discussing it today does no good because it no longer exists.
Becoming one of the lost can happen for many reasons, people believe their leaving is warranted; when it comes to offenses of the clergy, or hierarchy of the church, hurts can be deep and require herculean change before people will feel safe to return and be fed by a particular church. Other become lost because they may not be able to live with the rules, no divorce, requirements for church attendance, rules on fasting and abstinence. There are many reasons causing people to become the lost and whether the reasons are “legitimate” or not, the reasons are real for those who leave. As we have seen the reasons don’t matter to God, God’s only desire is to find you lost.
In hearing the message of Jesus we are called to care for the poor and the outsider. We need to understand the mercy of God, the forgiveness of God, the grace of God. When we are too smug and content in what we believe, then grace and forgiveness are not even on our horizon. Religion is often corrupted by those who find themselves satisfied with who is in and who is out. Religious people are satisfied with the time they put into church and don’t want to delve into the mystery of divine life any further than they have to. It has been said that religion is filled with people who are afraid of hell and spirituality is filled with those who have gone through hell.
Jesus is always on the side of the crucified one. Jesus is not loyal to one religion, or to a particular group. Jesus is always loyal to suffering. God is on the side of pain, wherever pain exist. Those whose hearts are open to pain will see Jesus everywhere. The church seems to say it has the perfect medicine; healing power to restore and renew hearts and souls. Yet, there also seems to be an energy in the church that says it is better you don’t need healing, if you really need healing you are not an ideal member. If you have had an abortion, sure come to church but don’t fully participate. If you are divorced and remarried sure come to church, but you can’t fully participate. If your lifestyle is one that is unacceptable by the church there is nothing good the church can say about you. If you come late or leave early we’ll judge you with our looks. Church insiders seem to look at each other and say, you are wonderful and I am wonderful too. But those people who are adulterers, homosexual, abortionist, they don’t belong here.Jesus is not loyal to one religion, or to a particular group. Jesus is always loyal to suffering. God is on the side of pain, wherever pain exist. Click To Tweet
Jesus looks at those who are considered outsiders as the ones most in need of his pursuit. Forgiveness, reconciliation, compassion and healing are means to salvation. More and more people are finding a connection to spirituality but don’t trust the church. New churches are exploding and making people feel comfortable and welcome. The older more traditional churches seem to be settling into a set of insiders, those who like the ritual and other insiders who don’t push for too much, they all think and behave the same.
Jesus’ message is clear, finding the lost brings more rejoicing than all those who stayed and didn’t need to be found. God wants people to know they are loved, important no matter what they have done in their life. It is the reason God lives and died for mercy. God’s mercy means you are always my child, I will always love you, I accept you as you are and don’t need you to behave by a certain set of rules. I only need you to love.God's mercy means you are always my child, I will always love you, I accept you as you are and don’t need you to behave by a certain set of rules. I only need you to love. Click To Tweet
Jesus makes it clear when he said, “Go and learn the meaning of the words ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13) This is not new, Jesus is announcing a message of the prophet Hosea (6:6). We often hear the church is to be a hospital for the sick not a museum for saints. Where can we find those hospitals really?
God’s plan is a plan of forgiveness and yes forgetting. We see it in Jesus resurrection. At the cross Jesus was abandoned and denied but nowhere in the scriptures do we hear Jesus complaining about either. In fact, Jesus gives Peter who denied him a chance to declare his love for Jesus three times. He had to know Peter was hurting and Jesus wanted Peter to know that Jesus counted on his love and returned the same. No mention of denial.
Being a God of mercy who prioritizes seeking the lost is the image of God. We hear this in the stories and examples of the readings this week. God knew that in creating church, people would be hurt, they would leave and not want accept their blessing as a child of God. Not because they were wounded by God, rather because they are wounded by those who speak on behalf of God. So God expresses the importance of finding the lost and of being a God of mercy. Come back to me God says, no questions asked.So God expresses the importance of finding the lost and of being a God of mercy. Come back to me God says, no questions asked. Click To Tweet
There are so many more options for someone who wants to follow God today, many different kinds of churches, teachings that can be viewed online and at home, leaders leading people who follow Jesus but are not pushing rules and rituals. Its as if God wants many paths to discover his mercy, his love, his compassion and his forgiveness. God is about healing and God is standing next to those who are suffering. God knows what it is like to suffer and he doesn’t want our suffering to be done alone.God is about healing and God is standing next to those who are suffering. God knows what it is like to suffer and he doesn’t want our suffering to be done alone. Click To Tweet
As we looked at the cross last week we concluded we will go through suffering. Alone it can be unbearable. With God it is redemptive, healing and purposeful. God wants to stand alongside the lost, leading them to his place of mercy. If you are lost, give God another chance. I would love to help you if you wish.
God’s mercy comes from God’s love to all. As children of parents who loved us we didn’t always receive the justice we deserved, in many cases our parents were merciful, (if we lived in a healthy environment.) God is a parent who is always merciful. Jesus expresses the desire for mercy and to lead the lost to a place where they are loved and forgiven. There can be no better place then where you are completely loved, seen as beautiful and whole. Trust God to make you safe, to be a healer and to demonstrate deep and unswerving love.
Seeking the lost is a sign of God’s mercy. We too should seek the lost and lead them back to a God who loves them and wants their best. God will do anything to share love and to express love. We too are called to mirror God’s love. Seek the lost and make them feel at home with God.Trust God to make you safe, to be a healer and to demonstrate deep and unswerving love. Click To Tweet