“I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need for repentance.” Luke 15: 1-32.
For the past year, in this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, we have been witnessing countless people living by the principles of mercy, forgiveness and tenderness.
Today’s extended gospel passage gives an insight into a loving father who is on the look out for us, to restore, comfort, heal and most of all – to welcome us home.
Pope Francis has asked us to take part in this particular encounter with the Lord, and come to San Carlos Cathedral and other churches in the Monterey diocese, for the special blessing and indulgences received by praying here.
From my own first hand observation this summer the great cathedrals in Europe in places like Bologna, Siena and the major Basilicas in Rome, there were long lines of pilgrims entering specially constructed doors that marked these holy sites.
Throughout Luke’s gospel, we journey with Lord who is encountering people along his way, often sinners, outcasts, foreigners, women and children. And not only does he associate with them, he goes out of his way to welcome them in the spirit of friendship and reconciliation. Here we see evidence of a loving brother who embraces our losses and hurts.
We too have losses in life that are all so vivid and cause us grief.
Economic set backs, where we feel that our children and grandchildren may not have the opportunities ahead. Or homes that we have built that contain a treasury of memories go up in flames. Or the times when we have lost out on life due to drugs, and alcohol. Or the pain we feel when a daughter or grandson of ours comes home from a foreign war, broken in spirit, depressed or seriously injured.
What does this gospel tell us? Go out to meet these challenges?
True enough, but more than that. Not simply to restore or rebuild, rather re-imagine these losses with forgiveness, grace, tenderness and mercy.
Yes, simply to replace what was once there, is not enough – but to truly take the opportunity for yet a new starting point to bring wholeness, healing, optimism and even joy.
So much of the intense emotion during this presidential election, and on this the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11 with the memorials that take place around our country, should be a reminder that “getting even” is not who we are as Christians, especially in a country where the diversity of religious belief and traditions is a foundation of our very national character.
“Shalom,” “Salam,” and “Peace on earth, good will to all” was proclaimed by the angels and shepherds to welcome the Christ at his birth, and is the starting point of our lives as people who celebrate the faith of Abraham, our common father.
There are some sixteen references to shepherds in the New Testament, those who traveled the pastures, and looked after their sheep. At the time of Christ, these were among the most prized possessions in the economy of Israel. This is a way of the gospel writer saying that everyone is valued in the eyes of the Good Shepherd, and no one is unworthy of his love and affection.
Consequently, the closer we are to this Good Shepard, the more his direction, unity, purpose, and safety take over our lives.