The First Reading, (Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14), narrated Israelite idolatry and Moses’ intercession to God on their behalf. Moses had gone up the mountain for a protracted period to have a conversation with God, (to pray). It was during this period of close encounter with God that the Lord revealed the Ten Commandments to him. While he was praying on the mountain, the people of Israel, whom the Lord had miraculously brought out of bondage in Egypt and had made a covenant with them at Sinai to be their God, apostatized. They made a golden calf and worshipped it by offering incense to it and referring to it as the god that brought them out of the land of Egypt. They also held festivity in its honour.
God’s anger was ablaze with the people of Israel for their apostasy, however, Moses interceded, (prayed), on their behalf by asking God to be mindful of His mercy and compassion and to grant them a second chance. The Lord relented! And the people of Israel were given a lifeline to make amends for their recalcitrant behaviours. Prayer does miracles! In Isaiah 38:1-6, King Hezekiah took ill and was about to die, but he prayed to the Lord earnestly from his heart, and the Lord eventually restored him to full health, and he lived for fifteen more years.
Jesus, during his earthly ministry, spent many hours in prayer and at times, prayed through the night, (Lk 6:12). He instructed us to ask and we shall receive, to seek and we shall find, and to knock and the door shall be opened to us, (Mt 7:7). He invited us to pray and not lose heart, especially when it does seem to us that our prayer is not bearing immediate fruit. Jesus taught us the compendium of all prayers, known as “Our Father”, and daily, he extends God’s mercy and compassion to us by interceding on our behalf through the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Jesus, through the person of the Priest, offers the Sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist to the Father for the sanctification of humankind. In every Eucharistic celebration prayer is offered for the intentions of the living and the repose of the dead. The Church triumphant, (the saints), who are now dwelling with God in unapproachable light, (Fourth Eucharistic prayer), are also acknowledged.
As we reflect on the apostasy of the Israelites, it is pertinent to have introspection if we have “a golden calf” in our lives? Are there behavioural patterns like materialism, narcissism, anger, envy, revengefulness, unwillingness to seek for forgiveness, unwillingness to pardon transgressors that inhibit us from living fully for God?
In the Gospel, (Luke 15:1-32), Jesus was criticised by the Pharisees and the Scribes for welcoming tax collectors and sinners. He then told them three parables centring on God’s mercy and compassion. The first parable was on a shepherd who went in search of a sheep that strayed from his sheepfold of one hundred sheep, and how he and his neighbours rejoiced on finding the wandering sheep. The second parable was on a woman who lost a coin in the night and had to light a lamp to find it. She and her neighbours rejoiced on finding the missing coin. The third parable was about a father who welcomed his wasteful son back to their family home after he squandered the father’s wealth on licentious living.
The prodigal son acknowledged his misdeed and how it had brought pain to his father and strained his relationship with God, when he addressed these words to his father who had welcomed him back unconditionally, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son. ” The father welcomed his wasteful son because he realised that he was dead but has come back to life, he was lost but has been found. The father also pleaded with his elder son to give his recalcitrant brother a second chance. The father reaching out and pleading with the elder son who was disappointed that his father welcomed back his wasteful sibling demonstrates that God seeks both the righteous and sinners.
In the three parables, the ninety-nine sheep that did not go astray; the nine coins that were not lost and the elder son that was of good behaviour represented the Pharisees and the scribes who presented themselves as being righteous. The lost sheep, the missing coin and the prodigal son represented the sinners. The will of God is for all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of his only Begotten Son, for everyone has sinned and has fallen short of the glory of God, (Rom 3:23). Only the mercy and compassion of God can restore us to wholeness again.
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp