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Bishop's Homily for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

September 11, 2022

[St. Stephen Diocesan Center, Kaneohe (Institution of Acolytes for Deacon Candidates); Newman Center/Holy Spirit Parish, Manoa (40th Anniversary)]

Have you ever been so angry that you were beside yourself? So upset about some situation that you just wanted to blast someone to smithereens? So enraged about some injustice that you wanted to wring some necks? If so, you are in good company. Our reading from Exodus makes it clear that even God felt this way. He was so enraged and hurt that, after all he had done for the people of Israel, they turned to the worship of a golden craft they had crafted. God is livid as he speaks to Moses about “your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt.” He wanted to obliterate them from the face of the earth and bestow his favor on Moses. But despite this opportunity for power and prestige for himself, Moses dares to reason with God, to remind him of who he is, and thus to turn back the full force of his wrath. And God listens to Moses, putting his justified emotions to one side and letting reason rule the day.

As we hear the beautiful parables of God’s mercy presented in today’s Gospel, we might tend to romanticize them a bit, too, or to look only at the end result. I imagine the shepherd who realizes one of the sheep has wandered away, and that his first reaction may not have been one of mercy and compassion. “That blankety-blank sheep! He has wandered off again! I should just leave him to the wolves. That will teach him!” But reason kicks in and he leaves the ninety-nine to go after that lost sheep. Then there is the father who is so merciful to his wayward son. I cannot imagine that he was not shocked, hurt, and angry over what his son had requested. The son requested his inheritance, which was more than money. It was like saying to his father, “Drop dead, Dad!” because we know one does not receive an inheritance until after the death of the parent. Perhaps this father shared with his older son how hurt and livid he was to be treated so shabbily by his own son. Yet when the younger son returns, repentant and bedraggled, the father’s reason takes over and he forgives his son in an unbelievable gesture of love.

We live in a world that has become very angry. Some are so angry they go on shooting sprees. Some splatter their anger all over social media, sometimes getting so personal that the object of their anger turns to suicide. Sometimes we actually cultivate our anger, dehumanizing and demonizing others: “Those Democrats! Those Republicans!; Those Blacks! Those Whites!; Those liberals! Those conservatives!” And all of this leads to the serious erosion of that basic respect that is needed so that we can live in harmony with one another.

Jesus, the new Moses, challenges us today to be like Moses, standing in the breach to bring reason to a situation ruled by raw emotions. So Jesus presents us with these beautiful parables of mercy and reconciliation. He shows us what is possible, even though difficult, so that we can calm our rage and embrace even those who hurt us so deeply. You will notice in the parable of the Prodigal Son that the father never tells his son that what he did was acceptable. He never condones the hurt his son perpetrated on him. But his reason opens his heart to celebrate what is most important to him, that his son is back with him. We often find it hard to forgive because we have the notion that doing so tells the offender that the offense was not important. No, the offenses recalled in these readings were serious and gravely injurious. Yet forgiveness is possible in spite of this, and Jesus is the perfect example. Paul recounts how his own sins, though extremely serious, were forgiven by Jesus.

We come to this Eucharist because it is the greatest sacrifice of reconciliation. Here our heavenly Father, who knows very well how sinful we are – and who may even be livid about our sinfulness – opens his arms to us and offers us the greatest banquet. In the parable, the father served a fattened calf, but here we are served the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In the parable, the shepherd brings back the lost sheep in rejoicing, and here Jesus brings back all of us lost sheep so that we can sing, and dance and rejoice in his prodigious love. But this banquet is not just for us. We are sent out, like Moses, to be the voice of reason in our world, to bring people to their senses, and to be instruments of reconciliation to all those who are at enmity with one another. Then there can reign the peace that only God can give.

[For Institution of Acolytes:

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, we are aware of the three main characters, the father and his two sons; but there were others whom the father sent to prepare the banquet, to kill and roast the fatted calf, to put clothes of dignity on his wayward son, to arrange the details of the banquet, and to arrange for the music to accompany the dancing. So it is with this Banquet of the Reconciliation, the Eucharist. Many are needed to set up the altar table, to bring the food and drink to the table, and to take care of all the little details that can go unnoticed unless they are not carried out properly. This is why we are celebrating this Institution of Acolytes for you who are preparing for the diaconate. This may not be the most glorious ministry, but without it, the joyful banquet of reconciliation could not be properly executed. Your ministry, therefore, is not just moving things from one place to another, but partaking of the Father’s merciful gesture in offering this banquet to his wayward children. Like Moses, you especially are to be ministers of reconciliation, so that hearts can be more open to receive the merciful embrace of our heavenly Father.]

[For the Anniversary Celebration:

For forty years this Newman Center has reached out to students, faculty and parishioners to turn them away from destructive anger and sin and to gather them at this banquet of reconciliation and love. We thank God for its fidelity to this mission and pray that, like Moses, it will continue to be the voice of reason that quells the anger and hatred in the world and brings it the peace of God’s kingdom.]