Cycle [C] 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 Exo  32:7-11,13-14; 1 Tim 1:12-17; Lk 15:1-32

Napoleon Bonapart, the French Emperor, decided to campaign against Russia, in 1812. Napoleon was pushing on with preparations for war on a colossal scale. By the summer of 1812 he had about 750,000 men under arms of whom 450,000 were destined for the actual invasion. On 28 May this army of armies set out towards East. Immense stores were collected. Two million pairs of boots were held in reserve. The baggage was hauled by 18,000 heavy draft horses, the siege-guns and pontoons by 10,000 oxen. A million great coats had been bought. 

The army passed into Russia unopposed. As Napoleon reached Moscow he had understood the mistake he had made. The marshals too were reluctant to march northwards. With the first fall of snow the story of the march became an epic of human misery; no food, no shelter, no fuel. Icy gales froze them and killed scores

every night. History testifies that it was one of the great errors of Napoleon. Out of 450,000 who had crossed into Russia only 20,000 marched back. 

If Napoleon had corrected himself 430,000 men who had crossed into Russia would not have lost their lives or pushed into misery. 

Or history gives evidence that such human errors have often proved fatal. The history of salvation too is  a sum total of such errors, often wilful, that  have estranged  man from God, and God’s interventions to make man aware of his  mistakes and the offer of mercy. 

The first reading from the Book of Exodus narrates one of such errors committed by the chosen people. While Moses was on Mount Sinai talking to God, the chosen people had cast for themselves an image of a calf, worshipped it and sacrificed to it, giving credit to it for bringing them out of slavery in the land of Egypt. Greatly offended by the people for having turned away from the way that He had commanded them, God was prepared to destroy them. But Moses implored to God to have mercy on  them; and God offers His mercy once again. 

To err is human, but one requires courage to recognize the error and rise from it. To recognize our mistakes often we need the help of external agents. When David sinned against Uriah, he required the proclamation of Prophet Nathan to realize his mistake. When Israelites sinned they needed the intervention of Moses to make them realize their mistakes. 

In today’s Gospel Jesus gives the picture of a man who reads the signs of the time and realizes that he has erred. Jesus narrated the story of the prodigal son in a moving manner. The younger son collected his share and left for a distant land. There he squandered all his wealth. Then the country experienced a severe famine. It was a prophetic message for him, to be aware of his own mistakes. 

Whenever we divert from justice, from the love of God, from the love for neighbour and from the ways of God; God makes us aware of it by means of the prophetic words of our friends, neighbours; and through the historic and natural events. What is required of us to read these signs and show courage to change our ways.

When Nathan condemned David, he repented. When Joseph’s brothers realized that they had done wrong to their brother by selling him to Egypt, they repented. When King Manasseh realized that his act of filling Jerusalem with blood (2 Kings 21:16-18) he repented. When Peter realized that he had denied his master he repented. Their repentance brought them forgiveness. 

You can learn from your mistakes only if you are able to admit them. As soon as you start blaming other people you distance yourself from any possible lesson. When Adam ate the forbidden fruit God called him. Adam put the blame on Eve, and Eve passed it on to the serpent. When Cain was asked, “Where is your brother?” he gave an elusive answer, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” It is our natural tendency to defend us.  But if you courageously stand up and honestly say, “This is my mistake,” there begins the possibility of change. Admission of a mistake, even if privately to oneself, makes a change possible. Realization of one’s own mistakes brings in the mercy of God. 

 St Paul shares his personal experience with Timothy in today’s second reading that where there is a sincerity of heart God’s mercy sanctifies it.

Today’s gospel passage also speaks of the mercy of God. Three parables are given to declare the magnitude of the mercy of God - The parable of the “Lost Sheep,” the parable of the “Lost coin” and the parable of “The Prodigal Son.” In the parable of the “Lost sheep” the shepherd is overcome with joy when he finds the Lost Sheep. The parable of the Lost Coin tells us that the woman greatly rejoiced when she found her lost coin. The parable of the “Prodigal son” expresses the extreme joy of the father on the return of his son. 

The Old Testament often speaks of God as “a merciful God” Psalm 136 repeats that, “God’s love and mercy are everlasting.” But it was Jesus who on becoming man, made his Father’s mercy known to us.  In these parables Jesus shows us not only his Father’s readiness to forgive, but also the joy he experiences in doing so, because man is precious in God’s eyes. 

We too are not strangers to sin. Proverb (24:16) says a just man falls seven times a day and rises again. We do not want to sin but we do. We can overcome this only if we allow the word of God to penetrate us and show up the dark spots in our lives so that we can bring them to the Lord for his healing and forgiveness.