Mercy is the Name of God

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    Gospel according to Luke (15:1-32)

    TAX COLLECTORS and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them he addressed this parable. “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after he lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.”

    Or what woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it? And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.” “In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

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    Pope Francis writes that mercy is not just one among the many attributes of God, but the very definition of God: “God’s name is mercy.” He further explains that mercy, before it is put into action, is primarily a disposition of the mind and heart. To be merciful is to gaze towards others with compassion and concern for their well-being.

    I suppose the opposite of imbibing this merciful attitude is being self-absorbed. Instead of turning our eyes to others and the world, we orient ou gaze toward ourselves. We take selfies with our smartphones, which is symbolic of our present ethos characterized by a disproportionate preoccupation with ourselves – how we look, what we have, how many likes we have garnered in our FB post, what we are about to eat, and where we have traveled To follow Jesus is to turn ourselves and toward others. the lost especially, as exemplified in our readings today.

    In our Gospel, the shepherd is ill at ease until every sheep is back in the sheepfold. He leaves the rest behind, searching for the lost sheep among thorn bushes and ravines-who knows, perhaps deep into the night. A woman sweeps her house, looking for a coin, and shares her joy with her neighbors upon findings it.

    A father waits day-in and day-out for his younger son to return home. Although the son dishonors the father by squandering his share of his inheritance, the father rushes to embrace and kiss him even before the wayward could utter a word of apology. Through the robe, the father restores his son’s status as a member of a landed family; and through the ring, his authority. The son’s bar feet indicate that he had become the servant of another master. By ordering the servants to cover his son’s feet with sandals, the father restores to him his freedom.

    We are all the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son. Jesus is telling us that each of us is precious in the sight of God. And the Lord never ceases seeking us and waiting for our homecoming to him.

    But the First Reading from Exodus clarifies that God is not oblivious to our sins. God is hurt and angered by Israel’s idolatry and transgressions. Nonetheless, he relents from blazing his wrath upon his people. He remains patient with them, giving them another chance to renew their covenant. In the Second Reading, St. Paul declares that even though he was a blasphemer and persecutor of Christians, the Lord showed his mercy upon him, entrusting the Gospel message to him and appointing him a missionary to the Gentiles.

    When did I get lost or feel lost? When did I experience financial ruin or social ostracism? When did I lose my moral compass and live a self-absorbed life? When did I undergo an emotional or spiritual crisis? More importantly, when and how did I experience God’s mercy seeking and restoring me? As the Lord has been merciful towards each of us who has experienced various ways of being lost, let us ask for the grace to be compassionate to those who are searching for their true selves and finding their way back home to our merciful God. – Fr. Manoling V. Francisco, SJ

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