Sunday Sermon for September 11, 2016, the Twenty Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: Ex 32:7-11, 13-14; 1Tim 1:12-17; Lk 15:1-32
In the second reading today St. Paul says that this saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners. St. Mark begins his Gospel by summarizing the whole of our Lord’s message as being “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Not only do we have numerous examples of people who turned their lives around through faith in Jesus, but we have our Lord telling us in the Gospel reading today that there is more rejoicing in Heaven over one repentant sinner than over 99 righteous people who have no need to repent.
Now, I can only speak for myself, but thus far in my life I have not yet met a person who has no need to repent. Someone might say that the Saints get to a point where they do not sin, so they no longer need to repent. The Saints are the ones who tell us that the closer one gets to the Lord the more one realizes their own sinfulness. So, even those Saints who never committed a mortal sin in their lives are willing to proclaim themselves to be the worst sinner ever.
The Saints recognize the grace God has given to them to keep them from sinning, but they also realize that the grace was present to keep from all of the venial sins and imperfections they committed. As they see their own failings in the light of God’s love they can only see how much it must have offended our Lord. They understand that more is expected from those to whom more has been given.
This becomes important for all of us because we tend to compare ourselves to everyone else. Unlike the Saints, however, we like to compare ourselves favorably. They saw themselves as the worst sinners; we like to see everyone else as being worse than ourselves. It may, indeed, be true that objectively that other person’s sins may be far worse than mine, but subjectively I may be a far bigger sinner because I have been given more graces and I have a greater knowledge of the truth, so I have a greater responsibility to live according to that truth and grace.
The point here, however, is to be willing to acknowledge that we are all sinners, big sinners, who are in absolute need of God’s mercy. Even if our pride does not allow us, with the Saints, to believe ourselves to be the worst of sinners, we can at least proclaim that because of our sins we deserve to be condemned. None us us deserves Heaven and none of us can get to Heaven by our own righteousness. For this reason we have to be so grateful that our Lord came into this world to save us.
Even more wonderful is the fact that He did not make it nearly impossible to achieve this salvation. If it were you or me, we might suggest that since so many are so ungrateful it will require heroic efforts if you want to have any share in what I am doing for you. It would be like Namaan the Syrian who thought the Prophet would ask him to do some extraordinary things, but when he was asked to do something simple he did not think it worth doing. Thankfully, Jesus did not require anything extraordinary from us, but we need to be careful not to take His mercy for granted, on the one hand or, on the other hand, not to hold it in contempt.
We see the humility of St. Paul when he declares himself to be the foremost among sinners. We also see the profound humility of Moses who turns down the offer to be the father of a great nation and, instead, intercedes for the people so that mercy would be given to them. Again we see the humility of the young man who squandered his inheritance and is now willing to come back, confess his sin, and be considered a servant rather than a son.
By nature we are servants, by grace we have become sons and daughters of God. This is not anything we did, so we can not be proud of it. Rather, we must be humble and grateful that God has been merciful to us. At the same time, we need to have complete confidence in His mercy. This confidence cannot be presumption, but a humble trust in God’s love for us. This love is for everyone, but it is more so for us because we are the worst of sinners. Rather than despair as such a thought, it must give us confidence because Jesus came into this world to save sinners. As St. Paul stated regarding these words: they are trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.