Sunday Sermon for September 15, 2013, 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 readings today we are shown a beautiful demonstration of the mercy of God. The Gospel presents us with the Prodigal Son who had done everything that would offend Jewish sensibilities, but when he comes to his senses and returns to his father, he is treated with mercy and restored to his place in the family. The son himself recognizes that he is not worthy of such a dignity, but the father is insistent.

The older son, upon arriving home, is indignant when he hears what the father did for the son who squandered his property. But the father remains firm in his position that the son who was lost has been found, the one who was dead has been brought back to life. For this reason there is cause for celebration. We could consider this parable for the perspective of any one of the characters in the story and we could understand each of them. The father is likened to God, the older son to us who are trying to be faithful, and the younger son also to us, but also to others who strayed from the right path.

I think it is most important to consider this passage from the point of view of the younger son after he is restored to the family. Knowing that he is not worthy to be part of the family, he cannot gloat over the fact that he has returned and not been treated as one of the servants. He cannot expect anything from the father because he had already received his share of the inheritance and wasted it foolishly. He certainly cannot look upon himself with any kind of self-confidence or with any sense of entitlement because he knows from whence he came.

He needs to have a disposition like what we hear from St. Paul in the second reading. He recognizes himself to be the worst of sinners, but he also understands that it is because of this that God was so merciful to him. This understanding leads to a profound sense of gratitude that finds its expression in humility and charity. When one sees himself as the worst, how can he condemn anyone else? When one is the lowest, it is not possible to look down on anyone else.

Knowing the mercy with which he had been treated, St. Paul wanted everyone to know this same mercy in their lives. St. Paul says that it is because he is the foremost of sinners that God was merciful to him so that he could serve as an example. He is not saying that God will only be merciful if you are the worst of sinners. Rather, what he is saying is that if God can be merciful to the worst, consider how much greater is the grace He will bestow on anyone who is not as bad.

Like the Prodigal Son, St. Paul had to humbly accept all that was extended to him. He did not think he earned or deserved any of it; he saw it all as a pure gift and he wanted others to know the gift of God given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord. We, too, need to understand that there is nothing we have done to earn or deserve the calling we have received from the Lord. To be a member of Christ is a pure gift and solely and act of mercy. Once we begin to grasp our own unworthiness to be chosen by God, we have to humbly accept God’s mercy, but we also have to want that mercy for others. There is not room for selfishness in the face of love.

Moses demonstrates the type of humility and charity God is looking for in us. Knowing the mercy God had extended to him, Moses intercedes for the people who had become depraved. He did not want them wiped out, but he had a heart full of love for them and he wanted them to experience the mercy he had received some time earlier.

Clearly Moses was not just mouthing words that he spoke only because that is what would be expected. God would have known if he was not sincere. He truly sought the good of the people and rejected the offer of something for himself. Carrying these people was at times a pain for Moses, but his love for them superseded any difficulty or frustration.

We have all been treated with great mercy. This mercy needs to change our hearts so that we will desire mercy for others. We need to have a heart full of love, desiring that others have what we have. Pray for sinners like ourselves, that they will open their hearts to know and to receive the mercy and love of God.

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