Forgiveness, Gratitude and Mercy

Forgiving and merciful is how God the Father is presented in this week’s readings.  Like a loving parent, God is always looking after every one of his sons and daughters and welcoming them back home.

In the first reading from Exodus (32:7-11, 13-14), Moses is negotiating with God to have mercy on the people of Israel who have returned to worshiping idols after having been lead out of slavery and recently receiving the Ten Commandments. How quickly we forget all that’s been done for us!  It was easy for the people of Israel to forget about God now that their problems were over.  They could forget about God and turn their attention to other, more worldly objects of desire.

Don’t we sometimes do the same thing when our life is going well? Is God first in your life or do you occasionally allow other worldly distractions  – money, dating,  movie stars, sporting events, professional sports teams – to be higher priorities than your relationship with God?  Thankfully, we’re told time and time again that our God is a forgiving and merciful God.

Paul positions himself as the foremost of sinners in his Letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 1:12-17). Who besides Paul would brag about being the #1 sinner?  In gratitude to God Paul says, “I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me trustworthy in appointing me to the ministry.” Gratitude is one of the most important traits for us to display on a daily basis – to God and to each other. Paul is grateful for Jesus’ grace and patience.  Are you grateful to God for all that you have? Have you said, Thank you lately?

If Jesus could turn the darkness that existed within Paul to light, his love and grace are strong enough to transform any of us no matter how dark our lives were or still are today. Paul tells us that in his life before knowing Jesus he was arrogant,  a blasphemer, a persecutor and acted out of ignorance and unbelief. We all act out of ignorance or unbelief.  Once we learn and believe, our problems are over. By positioning himself as the worst possible sinner, Paul assures us that if he can be forgiven through the grace of God, everyone can be forgiven.  Phew!

Christ chose Paul despite his tremendous sins. Christ chooses you and me too.  He’s always reaching out to us asking us to return to his love. He’s telling us that we will always be forgiven. 

The Gospel from Luke (15: 1-32) contains three parables which all express God’s mercy. The first parable is about the shepherd who has lost 1 of his 100 sheep. The second is about a woman who has lost 1 of her ten coins and the third is the story of the Prodigal Son – the lost son.  In each of the three parables, there is rejoicing when the one who is lost is found.  A good shepherd will leave the 99 sheep to pursue the one that is lost.

Jesus told these parables at this particular time because some of the Pharisees and scribes were complaining about the company that Jesus was keeping saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  Bingo!  That’s exactly what Jesus is asking every one of us to do today.  Welcome the lost and forgotten and point them towards the bulls-eye.

Jesus came to save those of us who are lost – the sinners.  To sin means to be “off target.”  Jesus came to direct us toward the target who never fails and always forgives.

A merciful God is always there to welcome us back home. He’s there ready to receive us with a hug and open arms.  When the younger prodigal son is welcomed back home after he “swallowed up his father’s property with prostitutes,” the older brother becomes resentful.  For a very long time, I tended to side with the older brother who was saying, “what about me?”.   He feels as though his loyalty to his father should entitle him to preferential treatment and that his brother’s behavior should have caused him to lose his privileges.

That is not how God loves.  God loves each of us equally and will invite us back home and into the family whenever we’re ready to return. Those of us who are already home have complete access to all the Father has to offer.

God’s love, mercy and forgiveness are abundant.  If you were waiting for a written invitation to return home, please consider your wait over.  All are welcome in God’s home.

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