Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C
[Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; Psalm 50; 1Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32]
Over the last few days, the attention of our minds and hearts has been captured by the sad news of the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Across the globe tributes continue to be paid to her and the legacy she has left to the UK, Canada, the Commonwealth and, indeed, the world. A wide array of sentiments is being expressed, but among them there stands out one that is common to them all: her constancy. The Queen has been for many people a symbol of stability, of steadfastness, at a time in history of remarkable and rapid change, often tumultuous.
The need for stability, for a rock-solid foundation in our lives, is something that we all have. It is a need we are feeling keenly in our present day. Over the past week we were rocked by the news of the terrible stabbings on the James Smith First Nation in Saskatchewan. The families of the victims have had their foundations shaken to the core. There were reports of violence in our own city, too. Add to this the ongoing war in Ukraine, the general economic uncertainty, the continuing reverberations of the pandemic, and so much more that unsettles us deeply, and we are left shaken, needing something secure to which we can cling for stability. Where do we find this?
As we turn to the sacred texts, the answer emerges clearly and unmistakably: the only sure source of stability in our lives is the steadfast love of God. God is constant, forever faithful to the promises He made to us and our ancestors. God’s unchanging love for us is the rock on which our lives can be securely built, and upon which they will remain stable.
This is immensely consoling, because we know only too well that while God is steadfast, we are not. Our lives are marked by that infidelity we call sin, a turning away from God and seeking to find security in places other than His love. The passages we contemplate this morning assure us that, no matter how grave our sin, God’s love never changes. Because we are sinners, that love reaches us as mercy.
And we need this mercy! In the characters presented in the readings, we see a reflection of ourselves at different moments in our lives. The ancient sin of idolatry committed by the people of Israel finds an echo in us whenever we worship the idols of reputation, possessions, or power. The prodigal son is us whenever we surrender to dissolute living and waste resources on pursuits that can only cause harm to ourselves and others. The elder brother finds a kindred spirit in us when we consider ourselves somehow superior to others and hold them in disdain, or when our Christian life is little more than empty formalism. Common to all these forms of sin is a turning away from the love of God and relying instead on our own ways of thinking for support.
The utter folly of this is revealed when we contemplate the figure of the father in the Gospel parable. Jesus uses him to teach us about God the Father. As we hear again what the Lord says, we wonder how we could ever have trusted in anything or anyone else.
Notice that when the youngest son goes away, he is soon left destitute and near death. Only when he returns to the embrace of the father does he find himself once again clothed and restored to life. The elder son, even though he remained in the household, was no less distant from his father. That distance, however, was in his heart, and its span grew the more he sought to earn his father’s love by fidelity to duty. So we hear the father assure him that he is always his son, and therefore at all times the object of his love, which is in no way conditional upon what he does.
God’s love is not something we could ever earn. It is given not as a reward for goodness but gratuitously because we are sinners. Our foolishness does not repel God and cause him to withhold his love; rather it is the reason God comes running to us so that he can embrace us with forgiveness and the gift of new life. St. Paul summarizes this astounding truth of God’s love beautifully when he proclaims that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”. Paul knew with every fibre of his being that he lived only by the mercy of God, that the steadfast love of God was his one entirely reliable source of security and support.
So, the call of these sacred texts is clear. They summon us to “come to our senses”, as the prodigal son did. This means to wake up to all the false securities upon which we attempt to construct our lives, and then to abandon them for the only thing upon which we can rely: God’s steadfast love and mercy.
As many commentators point to Queen Elizabeth as a symbol of constancy and stability, which she certainly was, I’ve noticed that very few make reference to that which the Queen herself often and unapologetically acknowledged as her own personal source of strength, namely, her Christian faith. In other words, she was strong and steadfast because she relied not upon herself but on the infinite mercy of God.
That same divine mercy comes to each of us every time we celebrate the Eucharist. May our communion with the mercy of Jesus Christ enable us to come to our senses and turn back again to the love of God as our only sure support.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Saint Joseph’s Basilica
September 11th, 2022