24th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
If we are not moving toward God – growing in holiness, allowing Him to perfect us in Christ – then we are moving away from Him. There really is no middle ground. Standing still isn't an option. Last week we heard Jesus say to us that we must hate our families, our friends, and renounce our possessions in order to follow him. Christ comes first, or not at all. This kind of thinking – right/wrong, yes/no – can make us a little nervous b/c our culture tells us that we are not truly free if we aren't given nearly limitless options to choose from. We like to mix and match; a little from here, a little from there. You know, customizeable religion, Have It You Way Faith. Unfortunately for those of us who want to a DIY religion, scripture and tradition bear witness to the truth of the Good News – there is only one way to find peace: when we find ourselves moving away from God, we must confess, repent, and follow Christ. As individual men and women of God and as the Body of Christ, the Church, our salvation, our peace is found only when we confess our disobedience, repent, and return to Christ. Thankfully, we're not left to our charms and wits in all this. God makes our return to Him possible.
This truth of our faith cannot be repeated often enough – God Himself makes our return to Him possible. IOW, w/o His help, we cannot return to Him. We can't confess. We can't repent. We can't follow Christ. I hope you find this as comforting as I do! Why comforting? B/c it means that I am not left on my own to find Christ's peace. I shudder to think where I would be right now if my salvation and growth in holiness were left up to me alone. Thank God this work is not mine alone. Nor is it yours alone. Yes, we must cooperate with God's help; we must put in our share of the work, but even then, our share is nothing more than what God has already given us. We aren't giving up or giving away anything that truly belongs to us. Whatever we have to give was first given to us by God. Our families, friends, our stuff, even our very lives were all given to us by God. So, whatever it is that we sacrifice to cooperate in our salvation. . .it was never really ours to begin with. Perhaps the only thing we can say is ours and ours alone is our sin. My sin really does belong to me. And to me alone. Only I can confess it, repent of it, and choose to return to God through Christ. With God's help, everyone can return to Him.
Look at how Jesus treats the sinners at table. Tax collectors, prostitutes, unclean Gentiles. According to the Law of Moses, he is defiling himself eating in such company. We're talking about mere social embarrassment here. We're talking putting himself outside the good graces of God Himself by violating the purity code of Scripture. The Pharisees and Scribes grumble and snark about Jesus' laxity and plot to use it against him. Jesus hears all the whispering and decides to teach them with a parable. The upshot of his story is this: a lost sheep once found is better than ninety-nine sheep that were never lost. That lost sheep is missed. It was once part of the flock and now it's gone, wandering alone and afraid. And here's the key: the shepherd goes looking for it. He doesn't wait quietly at home until the sheep comes home or turns up dead. The shepherd gets up and goes out into the wilderness to find his lost sheep. When he returns home with the sheep, he celebrates b/c what was once lost is now found. Jesus goes to the lost sheep among God's people and brings them home. He doesn't wait for them to come to him. He doesn't wait for us to find him; he comes out to us, looking for us, and brings us back to God.
Of course, we're not sheep. That lost lamb has little choice in returning home. The shepherd throws it over his shoulders and walks home. What our Lord does with the lost sheep among God's people is to show us how to return home. He comes out to us and walks with us back to where we belong. But we must carry ourselves behind him. If we are weighted down with sin. . .well, the trip back is going to be a tough hike. Christ will take our sin and carry it away. . .if we give it all to him. If we give it all to him – everything: our stubborn hearts, our closed minds, our clouded judgment, our disordered passions, everything – he will carry it all away. And our hike back to God will be straight and smooth. But giving it all away – every sin – takes courage. It takes trust. More than anything else, it takes faith in God that our surrender will bring us peace. We have the witness of the saints. We have the witness of Scripture. We have the holiness and unity of the Church. We have the sacraments. We have everything we need to know – to KNOW! – that a life in Christ brings peace. Confess, repent, return to Christ. There's an eternal party waiting us once we're found.
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