Friday, September 9, 2016

Twenty Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

Seeker of the Lost

I have a practice which I learned when I was still a boy and which until today I still resort to when I lose things. After a considerable time looking for that something which I lose and I do not find it, I pray to St. Anthony of Padua to help me find what I lost. The item can be very simple, a misplaced cellphone, a pair of eyeglasses, a notebook which is needed at the moment or anything of that sort. Invariably I would find the thing I am looking for through the intercession of St. Anthony of Padua, the famous Franciscan saint.

St. Anthony has been called the patron of lost things. He helps us find things which we lose. In contrast Jesus does not only help us find lost people. He himself looks for them. This is the meaning of our gospel reading today. Jesus seeks the lost.

But first let us clarify what class of people does Jesus seek. He does not seek those who knowingly, willfully, and obstinately refuse him. During Good Friday we listen to the Seven Last Words of Jesus. The first of these is most familiar to us. Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do. We place emphasis on the words "forgive them". We portray Jesus as a compassionate, merciful, forgiving person. We seem to forget that this forgiveness Jesus asked of his heavenly Father was given on a condition, that is, his persecutors did not know what they were doing. If they knew what they were doing Jesus would not have asked forgiveness for them.

Peter in his sermon after the cure of a crippled man affirmed that those who nailed Jesus to the cross did not know what they were doing.  He told his listeners, "Yet I know, my brothers, that you acted out of ignorance, just as your leaders did" (Acts 3:17).

In the Book of Leviticus when the forgiveness of sins was discussed it was always for sins that were done out of ignorance. In chapter 4 this phrase recurs "inadvertently commits a sin" whether it was for the sin of a priest, of the community, of the prince or leader, and of a private person.

In the New Testament the same is still true. Only sins done out of ignorance can be forgiven. The Letter to the Hebrews says that if a person sins willfully after receiving the truth, there remains for him no sacrifice for sin, only a fearful expectation of judgment and a flaming fire to consume the adversaries of God (cf. Hebrews 10:26-27).

Jesus himself said, "whoever says anything against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come" (Matthew 12:32).

The reason why Paul in the second reading tells us that he was forgiven was because he did not know what he was doing. He said, "I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant, but I have been mercifully treated because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief."

It is clear then that Jesus does not seek those who knowingly, willfully, and obstinately refuse him.

Rather he seeks three kinds of persons represented by the three lost items in our Gospel reading. The lost items are the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. Each of these represents a class of people.

The lost sheep represents persons who are distracted by the cares of family duties and go astray from following Jesus. Sheep can be distracted by a sound, a sight of greener pasture, a rippling of flowing water. So also people can be so distracted by their work and think that this is all important, to support their families, to care for the education and upbringing of their children that they forget Jesus and his kingdom. Jesus seeks out these persons.

The lost coin represents persons who have fallen into a bad environment. Coins fall and are easily lost in the things around the house. These represent persons who are influenced by their environment that they forget Jesus as the most important person in their life. They mix with their environment and get lost from Jesus. They include the drug addicts, the drug pushers, the prostitutes, the corrupt politicians and even misinformed terrorists. Jesus seeks out these people.

The lost son represents the person who thinks he has enough of this world's goods and thinks that he does not need to study and find a job somewhere to support his family. He is the rich guy who inherits his father's wealth. He too forgets the following of Jesus because he is comfortable where he is. Jesus also seeks him out.

These are the people Jesus seeks out to bring into his kingdom. He wants to reign over them. He wants to be their Lord and all. These are the poor who think of scraping a living, the victims of an evil environment, the self-satisfied well to do who thinks he is comfortable where he is. Jesus is looking for ways to seek them and gather them into his embrace.

And when he finds them and embraces them the whole court of heaven with all the myriads of angels and spirits of just human beings rejoice with him.

In some of our churches today we sing the hymn Amazing Grace. Its first stanza runs this way, 

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now I'm found,
Was blind, but now I see.

The writer of this hymn was John Newton who was indeed lost but was found by Jesus. He was an English sailor in the eighteenth century who later became a captain of slave ships. "During his 1748 voyage to England his ship encountered a severe storm off the coast of Donegal, Ireland and almost sank. Newton awoke in the middle of the night and, as the ship filled with water, called out to God. The cargo shifted and stopped up the hole, and the ship drifted to safety. Newton marked this experience as the beginning of his conversion" to real Christianity (Wikipedia). Jesus found him. Newton eventually renounced his trade of buying and selling slaves. He became an Anglican priest. He worked for the abolition of slavery.

In the commentary of the Christian Community Bible on the lost sheep we read these words: "In large cities today, the church seems to be left with only one sheep. Why does she not get out, namely, let go of her income, privileges or devotions of a commercial style, to go out looking  for  the  ninety-nine  who  got  lost?  To  leave the comfortable circle of believers who have no problems,  to  look  beyond  our  renewed  rituals, and to be ready to be criticized just as Jesus was criticized, is the challenge today."

This commentary tells us that the situation now is reversed in large cities. In the Gospel the 99 sheep were safe, only 1 was lost. That commentary tells us that now only 1 is safe, the 99 are lost.

We are the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son Jesus is seeking. Until we make Jesus all important in our life we are lost. If our family or business or looks or honor becomes too important for us that we forget the all importance of Jesus we are lost and Jesus seeks for us. When he finds us he rejoices, all the angels and saints also rejoice. He exclaims again what we heard in our Gospel reading today, Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep. And again he says, Now we must celebrate and rejoice,because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”

Let us bow our heads in prayer. Thank you, Jesus, for seeking us, your lost sheep and your lost brother and your lost sister. Bring us to your kingdom. Make us love you above all things with all our mind, with all our heart and with all our strength. Amen.

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Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.

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