To plumb the depths is an eye- and heart-opening experience
by Sister Ann Rehrauer
Today’s readings call us to reflect about evil, sin, and weakness -- but always in the context of the great mercy and goodness of God. God never chooses disciples who are perfect. Rather God chooses to love imperfect human beings (like ourselves), and calls us to love as God loves.
In the first reading God recounts Israel’s sinfulness in spite of everything God had done for them. God seems almost ready to abandon the covenant because of Israel’s idolatry. But as Moses pleads for the people, he reminds God that it is God’s nature to be loving and forgiving. In fact, God cannot be unmerciful. And God is always faithful to his promises, even when we are unfaithful. God relented and showed mercy to Israel, and in light of that experience, Israel repented and eventually entered the Promised Land.
In the second reading St. Paul speaks of his own experience of God’s grace and mercy. Paul is painfully aware of his sinfulness but is also overwhelmed by the mercy, faithfulness, and love of Christ by whom he was saved and called for the ministry of preaching the Good News. It was the awareness of God’s mercy to him that gave Paul the strength and energy for the task to be the Apostle to the Gentiles.
In the Gospel account, Jesus tells some of our favorite “mercy” parables as he addresses those who criticized him for welcoming sinners. Jesus’ response includes the story of a lost sheep, a woman who searched frantically for a lost coin, and a son who strayed, but was welcomed home with open arms by a forgiving Father. In these three accounts, God’s mercy and generosity is far beyond what any of us could expect or even imagine. No one would leave 99 sheep to go after one stray. It’s just bad economics. One lost coin – even a pricey one – isn’t worth all that work. And even the best of parents would have a hard time welcoming home a child who had violated all the family’s values and who blew his inheritance on drugs and alcohol and prostitutes. Yet this merciful father hopes for and awaits the son’s return and runs to meet him, embracing him even before the son can even ask for forgiveness.
As we live each day, we experience sin and weakness in ourselves and in others. But we also cannot fail to recognize the mercy and graciousness of our God who offers us forgiveness again and again, beyond what we could expect or even hope for. It is this experience of mercy and forgiveness that enables us to live in hope day by day. We who have received mercy are called to be merciful as God is merciful – even to those others (or we) might consider “undeserving.”