Arts and Culture

Illuminating Who We Are and Who God Is

by Father Robert Lauder

I suppose that on any given Sunday, the readings from the Mass stress the evil of sin and the graciousness of God. The power of the Word of God to touch us and move us probably depends to some extent on our attention, sincerity and willingness to be touched or even what happened in our lives during the week preceding Sunday. I believe that the Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword, but we must allow that sword to enter into us. When it does, it illuminates for us who we are and Who God is.

A few weeks ago, three Scripture readings seemed to be about evil and good, sin and grace, self-centeredness and God.

I am referring to the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 15. All three readings spoke to me about the adventure in grace that human existence on earth is and also our frequent failures to respond to God’s loving presence in our lives. The reading from the Old Testament, the reading from St. Paul and the reading from the Gospel highlighted, at least for me, the radical battle that human life is: a battle between choosing self or choosing God. Each reading in a different way encouraged us to grow in our faith and to see in a deeper way the enormous love that God has for each of us.

The first reading was from the Book of Exodus, chapter 32; the second was from St. Paul’s first letter to Timothy, chapter one; and the third was from Luke, chapter 15. Each reading dealt with sin, but more importantly, each dealt with God’s forgiveness.

The reading from Exodus depicts God having a conversation with Moses. God wishes to punish the Jewish people because of their sins, but Moses persuades God not to do that. He reminds God that God swore to Abraham, Isaac and Israel. It is a beautiful and moving section of the Book of Exodus.

The reading ended with Moses pleading with God and God responding to Moses’ pleas. Moses says: “Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and how you swore to them by your own self, saying, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky; and all this land that I promised, I will give your descendants as their perpetual heritage.’ So the Lord relented in the punishment he had threatened to inflict on his people.”

I suppose what I like most about the reading is the intimacy that it suggests between God and Moses and, I think by extension, between God and us. The most important message in the reading, I think, is that God is ready to forgive anything the Jewish people did and indeed anything that we have done because of God’s love for His people.

In the letter to Timothy, St. Paul confesses that he is a sinner and that out of ignorance he was once a blasphemer and a persecutor of Christians but that God’s grace has changed him.

The third reading is one of the most well known parables in the New Testament: The Parable of the Prodigal Son, which really should be called “The Parable of the Prodigal Father,” because it is the father who shows great generosity in the story. The younger son has asked for his inheritance while his father is still living. After receiving it, he squanders it. Desperate, he returns to his father, who runs out to meet him, more than ready to forgive him and celebrate his return. The older son resents the father’s generous actions toward his younger brother. He feels cheated and that he has never been properly rewarded for being loyal to his father.

We can learn a great deal by reflecting on this parable. We can be subtly tempted to behave like the elder son. We can be misguided and think that God owes us something or think that by trying to live as Christians we are doing God a favor. If we think that way, we have misunderstood our relationship with God. In relation to God, we are receivers and beneficiaries. In relation to us, God is gift-giver. We can do nothing worthwhile without God’s grace. We are not doing God a favor by trying to live as Christians. In relation to us, God is all forgiveness and love.

Words from a close friend can have a profound influence on our lives. The Word of God can revolutionize our lives.[hr] Father Robert Lauder, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn and philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, writes a weekly column for the Catholic Press.