First reading: Ex. 32:7–11,13–14
The LORD said to Moses, “Go down at once to your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, for they have become depraved. They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them, making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it, sacrificing to it and crying out, ‘This is your God, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!’ “I see how stiff-necked this people is,” continued the LORD to Moses. Let me alone, then, that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them. Then I will make of you a great nation.”
But Moses implored the LORD, his God, saying, “Why, O LORD, should your wrath blaze up against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with such great power and with so strong a hand? Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and how you swore to them by your own self, saying, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky; and all this land that I promised, I will give your descendants as their perpetual heritage.’” So the LORD relented in the punishment he had threatened to inflict on his people.
Second reading: 1 Tm. 1:12–17
Beloved: I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me trustworthy in appointing me to the ministry. I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant, but I have been mercifully treated because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief. Indeed, the grace of our Lord has been abundant, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost. But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life. To the king of ages, incorruptible, invisible, the only God, honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Gospel: Lk. 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 the 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.”
Then he said, “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns, who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”
In other words
Fr. Emil Pati, SVD (San Fernando, La Union)
The Legend of the Wandering Jew is about Cartaphilus, a Jew who made fun of Jesus on the way to the crucifixion. As a result, Cartaphilus was cursed to wander all over the Earth, assuming various personalities and ways of life until the Second Coming. Interestingly, every hundred years, he returns to the age of thirty and keeps on going, but whenever he gets lost on his way, the God who accompanied him always looks for him and finds him. In 1973, Gustave Dore “modernized” the legend with his series of twelve designs/illustrations with each a couplet, “Too late he feels, by look, and deed, and word, How often he has crucified his Lord”based on what God told Moses about the people of Israel in the first reading today: “They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them.” Throughout the Exodus journey, historically dubbed as “wandering in the desert,” God dealt with his people with a heavy heart because of their waywardness.
With the legend in mind, we understand why the three parables in the Gospel do not focus on the lost sheep, lost coin, and prodigal son but on the caring shepherd, the widow, and the forgiving father. Jesus reveals God as one who goes in search of those who are lost. God, through the shepherd, does not say, “Oh well, I only lost one, I still have ninety-nine!” No, he searches everywhere to find the one lost sheep. When found, he carries it back lovingly to the herd and celebrates. God, through the woman, does not say, “Oh, it’s only ten pesos, I have thousands in the safe!” No, he searches high and low until he finds what was lost and rejoices. Through the father in the third parable, God does not say, “He left with his own, leave him to his perdition.” No, the father eagerly awaits and looks forward to the return of his lost son. Upon his son’s return, he celebrates with a big feast.
The “wandering Jew” legend is still real today. As people journeying towards the kingdom of God, we wander and lose our way, and God goes in search for us, not to scold us, but to pick up and carry us home. With a heart full of compassion, he disregards our past actions. Overwhelming may our sins be, and we wonder if God can ever forgive us, he goes even beyond by healing our sick souls. Going back to Cartaphilus, an Armenian bishop reported that he had been converted to Christianity and spent his wandering days proselytizing and leading a hermit’s life. Indeed a model for all of us! In the second reading, St. Paul confesses what his former life was like; however, with God’s amazing grace, his life was changed forever. Taking his conversion and his new life as an example, we ask the Lord to bless our desire for a new life in Christ. Like the tax collectors and sinners who were drawn to Jesus and joined him at the table, let us approach Jesus in the Holy Eucharist with repentant hearts and a resolve to take advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation when the opportune time comes.