24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
QUESTIONS ABOUT OUR SIN & FORGIVENESS
By Maria di Paolo, Pastoral Associate
This weekends’ readings are about sin and repentance: the community of Israel in exile commits idolatry; St. Paul writes to Timothy about his past life as a persecutor and man of violence; and finally, Jesus tells the Pharisees three parables about sinners who repent. The sins of the community, Israel, and those of the person, Paul, are extremely serious: idolatry is breaking the first and second commandments, and blasphemy, violence and murder, the third and fifth.
God is so angry when the people of Israel make a golden calf and to worship that he threatens to destroy the entire nation, but Moses pleads, “remember Abraham, Isaac and Israel, your servants how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” God is profligate, or prodigal, in his love for his children, Israel, just like the father in the parable is in his love for his younger son.
Paul was a real person who did truly horrible things when he was a young man: he relentlessly persecuted the early Christians, he stood by and watched while Stephen was stoned to death and approved of it, he ravaged Christian communities and threw many people into prison. He was heading to Damascus to do more of the same when he experienced a profound conversion. He explains to Timothy, “I received mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” He says that he received mercy so that he might be held as an example to others. Jesus’ love for Paul was overflowing, it was prodigal, as is Jesus’ love for us.
The three parables show us a God who rejoices when a lost soul is found, when a sinner repents. We need to know this for ourselves when we ask for forgiveness for our sins. We need to know that God will forgive us and rejoice in doing so. But I think we should also think hard about what we ask of God when we pray, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Is our forgiveness love-filled or begrudging? Can we let go of past wrongs done to us? Can we also love the person who has sinned against us?