The Gospel we just heard is two of the three parables Jesus gave to his hearers that day. The Church leaves me free to concentrate on these two because I believe there is a message that can be grasped with these two simple but familiar themes. First and foremost we need to pay attention to the very different two groups. First the tax collectors and sinners. Luke tells us they came to listen to Jesus. They wanted to have him teach them. They wanted to let him transform them even though they were the outcasts. The leaders, scribes and Pharisees complained about Jesus for that very reason. The Greek verb indicates they were grumbling publicly and thus stirring up people against Jesus.
The two parables Jesus speaks to the grumblers, the scribes and pahrisees are simple enough and easy to grasp. Loss of a sheep or a valuable coin. And the joy of re-discovery. And Jesus challenges the grumblers: what one of you would not do that? What man, what woman would not rejoice to find what was lost and be filled with gratitude and happiness? If you were a cynic or one of the grumbling group, you might have said, what’s one sheep when I have so many? Or probably that woman spent more money on her party than the coin was worth! But Jesus answers them and teaches those who want to listen and understand: In just the same way I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents! God so loves us all that his love is not just one great embrace but an embrace that touches each person individually. God leaves no one out. And just as a mother loves all her children but knows what special touches each one needs to have; just as a father cares for all his children but knows the one who needs a little extra attention: so does God love us all and knows us so intimately that his love is both universal and personal at one and the same time.
Fifteen years ago today, we lost more than one sheep. Fifteen years ago many coins of great value were destroyed, gone forever from our midst. With love, etched by the black ink of sadness, we recall them one by one and we renew our memory as an act of piety that pleases the Lord. Some of you here lost family. Al of us lost friends, neighbors, parishioners. St John Paul was deeply moved when I told him that our Diocese alone had had over 400 funerals. All of them beloved to God. So many, many of them brave beyond what anyone could ask of them. Peggy Noonan has a beautiful account of one young man, Welles Crowther, and what he did for others before offering up his own life. Read it in yesterday’s WSJ.
But in the aftermath of the tragedy, we also remember the coming together, the sharing of grief that led to the renewal of hope, the discovery with simple concrete acts of kindness how strong are our bonds, how much we learned to love another, a gift that sprung forth from the sharing of our sorrow. How countless were the kindnesses that helped rebuild our lives! At the Coliseum I asked you all to make yours the Gospel of John where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples on the night before he died. He said to them and us: You call me Lord and Master and that I am. But if I, your Lord and Master, wash your feet, you are to wash one another’s feet. This I command you to love one another!
Today we remember. Today we re-affirm. But today we also need to take stock, each of us personally and all of us as a community of faith. I see two examples before us in the Scriptures today. The first is a people who grew tired of waiting for God’s will and decided to throw in the towel and worship false gods. In their case, it was a golden calf. In our case? Is it one of the four Ps? Pride? Power? Prestige? Pleasure? As a society, especially in this election year, have we lost the idealism of the first responders? The example of young Welles Crowther in Peggy Noonan’s column?
Or do we take our example from the second reading, the example of Paul, so quick to admit his own mistakes, his own failings, his own misdeeds. Yet God acted within Him and he was transformed. Learning from him we too can say The grace of our Lord has been abundant in me, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus…Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am foremost. But for that reason I was mercifully treated. God’s love embraces all. We know that. He who called us has justified us. He who justified us will glorify us. For we, with Paul, who have come to believe in him for everlasting life, everlasting for those we honor today, everlasting for all who believe in Him as his disciples:
TO THE KING OF THE AGES, INCORRUPTIBLE, INVISIBLE, THE ONLY GOD
HONOR AND GLORY FOREVER AND EVER AMEN!