24ocHomily for Mass – Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

(Saint Bernardine’s Church, Regents Park: Saturday 6pm;  Sunday 7.30am & 9am;  Saint Catherine’s Church, Jimboomba: Sunday 5:30pm)

14/15 September 2013

(Readings: Ex 32:7-11, 13-14;  1 Tim 1:12-17;  Lk 15:1-32)

* This weekend in our deanery we take up the annual appeal for Catholic Mission.  There is a bit about it on the front page of the newsletter, and there are envelopes on the seats.  We commend the appeal to you which assists missionaries throughout the world to share the love of God with those amongst whom they live and minister.

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In his sermon for this Sunday, Fr Robert Barron compares what he calls a logic of justice and a logic of grace.  The logic of justice is something that we all know very well.  It’s about owing and being owed.  I do this for you, and you do that for me.  I do something for you, you owe me something in return.  If you’ve helped me, then I owe you something in return.  In a sense, it’s a calculating mentality: you’ve hurt me, so I’m going to do what it takes to get just recompense from you.  There is an inability to forgive.  The logic of justice leads to a division: good guys, bad guys;  those who are owed, and those doing the owing.  If we observe children we see that they very early on pick up on a justice mentality: they’re very quick to know when they’ve been hurt or wronged, or when something promised to them has not been delivered: and they seek redress!  And if it starts in childhood, it continues on through our lives.

This logic of justice is contrasted with a logic of grace or gift.  We could say: even though I don’t owe you anything, I’m going to give to you.  Even though you have hurt me, I’m going to forgive you.  This logic of grace doesn’t look just to oneself, but looks to the other.  To grace and gift, we could add the word mercy.  Mercy or grace goes beyond justice.

None of this is to say that justice is bad in itself.  If there was no justice, there would be chaos.  No justice would be a great injustice.  And yet, there is something beyond a calculating, justice mentality, and we’re given an insight into that in our readings today.  It would be a cold, hard world, if all our relationships were reduced to the mere vindication of our rights.

Beginning with the first reading, we see the great offense that God’s people caused to God.  Not long after God has worked the great wonder of bringing them out of slavery in Egypt, they forget about God;  and to add insult to injury, they make a calf of molten metal and worship it and offer it sacrifice!  Such ingratitude and offense, in justice, deserved God’s anger blazing out against them, devouring them, and them being replaced by a people who would be faithful and grateful.  And yet, after Moses’ intercession, the divine justice is transcended, and divine mercy is shown.

In the second reading Saint Paul speaks about how Christ called him into his service even though he used to be a blasphemer and one of the greatest persecutors of the Way of Jesus, doing all he could to injure and discredit the faith.  Justice would demand that Saul’s actions be punished;  and yet divine mercy calls this very hater of the Way of Christ to become one of its greatest apostles.  Saint Paul says that Christ did this precisely to show to other people his “inexhaustible patience” – something which certainly transcends a calculating justice.

This feast of the “logic of grace or gift” continues then in the four sections of today’s Gospel.  In the beginning, we see the scribes and Pharisees complaining that Jesus gives too much attention to sinners, even eating with them.  In their mind, they are the righteous ones, and the tax collects and sinners are unrighteous;  they therefore don’t deserve the attention or approbation of Jesus.  And yet, that’s who Jesus chooses to be with.

In the first parable of the lost sheep, from the logic of justice, there’s something astounding about the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep who have stayed with him, thereby exposing them to danger, and then gives extravagant attention to the stupid one who’s wandered off and been careless.  But then, to make matters worse, when he brings back the idiot who wandered off, he’s happy.  If you’re one of the righteous ninety-nine, you might be thinking: couldn’t the shepherd at least have had a frown on his face, and said, “look at those good ninety-nine!”  The shepherd is demonstrating the divine attitude of grace/gift/mercy.

Then we have the story of the crazy woman who searches for the lost coin.  Now the coin we’re talking about is probably worth about five cents.  She lights a lamp – so we guess she works through the night, meticulously sweeping out and searching the house until she finds the coin.  Now, imagine if you received an invitation from someone to a party, and the reason for the party is that they found five cents!  You’d think they were a bit crazy.  The logic of justice says: five cents is not worth it: let it go! Cut your losses!  But the logic of grace, the mind of God, is that everyone who is lost is worth it.  No one ever is to be written off as a lost cause when it comes to salvation.

And then we have one of the greatest stories ever told in the history of the human race: the prodigal son.  The younger son and the older son personify the logic of justice.  For the younger son, he wants what’s owed to him.  He basically tells his father, “I wish you were dead,” give me now the inheritance that’s going to come to me.  And then, later, the older son tells his father: You owe me!  I’ve slaved for you all these years, and you haven’t given me what I think you owe me.  The father goes beyond the logic of justice.  To the younger son, to whom he owes nothing, he gives the best of everything he has.  To the older son, who is ungrateful and spiteful, he too is called to the celebration.

In all of this we have a glimpse of the mind of God, and how God acts.  Without denying that there is a place for justice, God’s mercy and grace go beyond justice.  For this, our only response could be gratitude.  For how often have we lived our lives ungrateful for everything that God has given us?  How often have we forgotten God and worshiped other things besides Him?  How often have we put aside His laws, and lived our lives according to our own tune – doing it my way – and only thinking of God when we need something, or to blame God for our misfortune?

If justice was all we had to hope for, we’d be a hopeless lot!  Who would survive if we got what we deserved according to justice?  But with God there is mercy and grace, and fullness of redemption.  In humility, let’s approach this God of mercy and grace as we offer Mass … and let’s try to live this logic of grace and mercy in our own lives.

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