God's Word on Sunday: God is faithful even when we are not

  • September 8, 2019

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 15 (Year C) Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; Psalm 51; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32

The Golden Calf is alive and well. It is a powerful cultural symbol for greed, infidelity and idolatry — even in secular settings. 

The Israelites had seen God’s wonders and miracles. They had witnessed the humbling of Egypt the superpower and all of her gods. Time after time God rescued them from disaster and provided for their basic needs in the desert. All God asked in return was absolute trust and fidelity. 

But all of God’s blessings were not enough for the people. As soon as Moses seemed to disappear, they got nervous and frightened. 

They wanted a god whom they could see and touch, and they wanted this god to lead them back to the supposed security of Egypt. Never mind the centuries of brutality and slavery — memories are funny and fickle things! 

By worshipping the Golden Calf, they put their trust in something of their own creation, and this is what many people do every day. 

It would be wrong to look down on the Israelites, for they were no different than all of us. It doesn’t matter what God has done for us — that was yesterday. And the moment people meet adversity, tragedy or just not getting their way, faith and fidelity to God often flies out the window. 

Faith is trust. Faith is continuing the journey when we can’t see the road in front of us. Faith is absolute certainty that God cares and is with us every step of the way. 

This story has all the track marks of human imagination, for Moses had to talk God down from His rage and threatened violence. After all, Moses reminded God, remember the promise You made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

God “changed His mind” and the Israelites were not destroyed. It is improbable that God was ruled by human-like emotions, especially expressed in violence and killing. But there is still a message in the story. 

God is bound by the promises that God has made. God is faithful even if we are not. And all human misery and disaster begins the moment we take our minds and hearts off the God who created us and saves us.

There is a kinder and gentler depiction of God in Paul’s letter. Paul was astounded that God was so merciful in spite of his sins and opposition. His sins were not primarily from malice but ignorance, like so many human sins. 

Paul revelled in the fact that Jesus is so patient with him — in effect, Paul had become Jesus’ project, shaping him into an instrument to proclaim the word of salvation. When we allow it to happen, we too become clay in the hands of God to be formed according to God’s wishes and intentions.

There are many forms of alienation, infidelity and separation, but they are all variations on one fatal mistake: forgetfulness. 

The younger son in the Gospel parable forgot his family, home and traditions. Having blundered in such a fundamental way, he was easy prey for a disordered and sinful life. 

God’s mercy came in the form of adversity and struggle, providing the antidote in the form of remembrance. The young man remembered his home, the place he had there and his father’s love. This gave him the hope and courage to get up from his miserable situation and journey homeward. 

Conversion is really remembrance — we remember that we are loved and that our lives have meaning and purpose. We also remember God’s many kindnesses and the kindness of others. 

The older son also fell victim to forgetfulness. He forgot that he was his father’s beloved son now and that all that the father had was already his. He also forgot that there was no essential difference between him and his brother — they were connected, heart and soul. 

In his anger, he couldn’t even say “my brother” — he spat out the words “your son!” to his father. He also forgot that both he and his brother were on the same journey, although their paths might diverge a bit. Basically, they both made the mistakes many make each day.

Look at our broken and bleeding world: We have forgotten our home, both earthly and heavenly, and we have forgotten that we are all part of one another and God. Let us pray for remembrance — conversion — before it is too late.

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