The parable of the Prodigal Son as depicted in Rembrandt van Rijn’s The Return of the Prodigal Son c.1661-1669, gives insight into God’s merciful will. Photo from Wikipedia

God's Word on Sunday: Mercy is another name for God

  • September 11, 2022

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

People can be unbelievably fickle and demanding. God had liberated the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, humbling one of the ancient world’s superpowers in the process.

God’s wondrous deeds included those that even today are hard to believe: the plagues; the parting of the sea; the manna and water in the midst of the desert. But that was not enough. The people murmured and complained every step of the way, yearning unrealistically for the “good life” they had enjoyed in Egypt!

Memories are strange — bad past memories can sometimes become rosy when faced with new challenges. The “good old days” were seldom so, despite what some might say.

But things finally reached a breaking point: Moses was gone for a long stretch of time on the mountaintop, and the people began to doubt that he would return. They took the gold in their possession and fashioned a golden calf to worship as a god.

There was no thought to the covenant God had made with them or the solemn promise they had made to God. They had sworn obedience and loyalty and exclusive worship. But now they were revelling and dancing around the golden calf.

Back on the mountain, God informed Moses of what was going on in the camp and told him step aside. God was going to wipe out the people whom he had rescued from Egypt and start over.

Moses had to step into the breech: he dared to remind God of the promises made to the patriarchs, and he begged God to relent. Moses talked God down out of the divine rage and into divine mercy.

Perhaps what God has done for us is not as dramatic as the events of Exodus, but they are no less the result of God’s provident and loving care for us.

Our gratitude is not a onetime response, but continual and unceasing. Both our gratitude and our loyalty to God must weather the difficult and trying times in our lives if they are genuine. God is not our God only when everything is going well or when we are happy.

Paul knew the tremendous mercy of God through personal experience. His life had been one of violence, intolerance and relentless persecution of the Christian community. He had certainly fulfilled all the requirements for receiving God’s wrath, but instead he received mercy.

As with many people, his negative activity stemmed from ignorance and a rather superficial relationship with God. His encounter with the Lord transformed him and led to his realization that Jesus came into the world to save sinners — in other words, everyone.

The only response to such kindness is gratitude and willingness to be as compassionate, forgiving and patient with others as God is with us.

The three parables of Luke stretch and expand our understanding of God’s mercy and compassion.

In the stories of the shepherd and the woman with the lost coin, we are amazed at the persistence — to the point of obsession — with the one missing sheep and coin. Most would have shrugged and moved on, but not the characters in the story.

The one missing sheep and coin were the most important things in the world for the shepherd and the woman. Ninety-nine sheep were not a flock; nine coins were not a treasure. Only when both were whole and complete could there be rejoicing. Nothing is cast aside or left behind. 

In the story of the prodigal son, the father gives us even deeper insights into the nature and mercy of God. When the younger son demands money and strikes out on his own, the father does not condemn him or try to stop him. He had to learn from experience.

When the son repented and came home, the father brushed aside his grovelling and self-condemnation. The father was not angry or condemning — he welcomed him back with a celebration and rejoicing.

To the petulant older son, he explained that the younger son was lost and now found, dead and now alive. Rejoicing was the only acceptable response, for they were now whole again and were a family.

Mercy is another name for God, and it should be our response to others.

God is merciful and we should be too.