Many people tend to see the portrayal of God in the Old Testament as of a God is punishing, bestowing his wrath upon all who break his commandments.
Our first reading today from Exodus begins with a God who is anger and punishing. He had been speaking with Moses on the mountain. What do the rest of the Israelites do while Moses is on the mountain with God? They make a molten calf and they worship it, breaking the Commandment against idolatry.
When God gave them the Ten Commandments, they had responded, “We will do everything that the LORD has told us” (Exodus 24:3). They broke a Commandment and they broke their word. They turned away from the way the Lord had pointed out to them.
God knows this just as He knows when we sin. God tells Moses how the Israelites had become depraved. Speaking to Moses, God refers to the Israelites as Moses’ people whom Moses brought out of Egypt. This reminds me of how some parents will speak of their child as their own when they are good but when one parent is telling the other parent what a child has done wrong, sometimes they say “your” child.
God says, “Let me alone, then, that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them.” They broke a Commandment and they broke their world. God would be within his rights to punish them. Does He?
No. Why? Because “Moses implored the Lord.” Moses intercedes for them, reminding God of his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. No matter how many times we broke our word, God never breaks his word. “So the LORD relented in the punishment he had threatened to inflict on his people.“
God is merciful.
In the New Testament, we have clear images of God as merciful and loving. For “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Looking at Jesus on the Cross, we see his absolute love.
In today’s gospel Jesus speaks of forgiveness and mercy. God wants to save every single one of sheep. In the Parable of the Lost Sheep, Jesus speaks of the shepherd who loses one sheep and will do anything to save that one sheep. Would you or would you stick with the remaining 99? He speaks of the shepherd rejoicing when the lost sheep is found. God rejoices every time a sinner repents.
In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus speaks of three people. We tend to center on the younger son in our reading of this parable. The younger son goes to his father and asks for his inheritance. This is more than just greed. In the culture of the time, to take one’s inheritance before his father dies would be to reject his father and completely separate himself from him. The father could have said no but he does not. He allows his younger son to leave with his inheritance.
The younger son “set off to a distant country.” He had plenty of money. He could have been set for a lifetime. Instead “he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.” He “spent everything.” Then a famine came. Having failed to be wise with his inheritance, he “found himself in dire need.” He ends up working for a pig farmer, considered by the Jews to be an unclean job.
Hitting bottom, he comes to his senses. He realizes his father’s workers are better off than him. So, he makes plans to return home. He does not expect his father to forgive him and welcome him home. He does not expect to regain his status as a son. He’s just looking for a decent job.
His father has other plans. His father wants him back. As soon as his father “caught sight of him,” his father ran to him, “embraced him and kissed him.” His father orders the finest robe and ring to be put on him, signifying that he is once again his son. The father throws a great celebration.
God is our Father. Our inheritance from him is the Kingdom of Heaven, a priceless treasure. Yet, we do not always embrace the treasure. Instead we turn away in sin, choosing a “life of dissipation.” When we sin, we lose the inheritance God has given us and face eternity in Hell. God is all-loving and merciful. He does not want us to end up in Hell but He allows us to make the choice.
God knows we do not always choose wisely. He is prepared. He is ready to welcome us back but a price must be paid for our sins. Jesus takes the punishment for our sins upon himself so that we may be forgiven. Thank you Jesus!
We must not forget the older son. While the father rejoices when the younger son returns, the older son does not. In fact, “He became angry.” Anger is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. He was so angry that he would not enter the party. “His father came out and pleaded with him.” The father loves both his sons.
God loves all his children. As God forgives our trespasses, we must forgive those who trespass against us.
It is God who, in the greatness of his compassion, wipes out all our sins, washing us of our guilt. The question is do we let him?
What kind of question is that? Do we let him? Who doesn’t want to be cleansed of their sin? Someone who enjoys the pleasure of the sin. I hope no one enjoys sin for the sake of sinning but we can find earthly pleasure in our sin. That’s what makes it hard for us to stop sinning.
When we understand an action as sin, separating us from God and locking us out of Heaven, we want to be relieved of our sin. God wants to do this. In fact, God is eager to forgive us. Knowing God is eager to forgive us, we might come to take his forgiveness for granted.
We do not like it when someone takes us for granted. We should not take God’s forgiveness for granted.
Paul writes, “I am grateful to him who strengthened me.” Paul understands that he was a great sinner. He was a blasphemer, denying Jesus was the Messiah, and persecuting the first Christians. He was arrogant, thinking he knew what the Messiah would be like and thought Jesus was not the one. For these sins, Paul sees himself as the foremost of sinners. Thus, he is grateful for the mercy God bestowed on him. In gratitude for God’s mercy to him, Paul shares Jesus with others.
God loves you and forgives you. Be grateful for his love. Share the good news of God’s love and forgiveness with those who will listen.