Seeing ourselves as rescued sheep

11 September 2022 24th Sunday, Year C

The central claim of our faith is summarised by St Paul in today’s readings. “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

The main promise of the Christian faith is that Jesus has fixed the problem of the human condition by defeating death and freeing us from the power of sin. Because of Christ’s triumph over sin and death, any human being, at any moment, can turn from their sins that threaten to eternally separate them from God and be reconciled.

Today’s Mass readings give three examples of a theme we see time and time again in the Scriptures; God’s people commit horrible sins and, instead of receiving what they deserve, God forgives and restores them.

The Israelites in the first reading set up and worship a golden calf. Idolatry is fiercely condemned by God in the Old Testament because it cuts people off from their loving creator and elevates something else without the goodness and holiness of the one true God in his place. No other being, person or thing but God alone can be entrusted with the human heart’s need to worship.

In the responsorial Psalm, we hear the lament of David who is guilty of an affair and conspiring to have a man killed to cover up his infidelity. Although he was God’s chosen leader of Israel, his self-indulgence leads to the destruction of a family and is a betrayal of his unique relationship with the God who gave him everything.

In the second reading, Paul tells his testimony of how he was a violent persecutor of Christians. His rage, judgment and violent hatred for God’s people made him an enemy of the God he claimed to serve.

While the actions of the Israelites, David and Paul are particularly damaging, there is something of their actions in every human sin, no matter how small. Every sin is part idolatry, because it places our will and our love for ourselves or for things above God and his commandments. Every sin is also part adultery, as we betray the special, loving relationship that God has created us for to love something else. Every sin is also part violence, as it ruptures the God’s plan for the world and creates enmity between people.

And God’s response to the destruction of sin is proclaimed in today’s gospel. “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?”

On each of these occasions in today’s readings, God looked upon his people’s repentant hearts, wiped away their guilt and brought them back to him. Our faith is not just about being a good person, because none of us are truly good. It is instead about seeing ourselves as rescued sheep.

Joseph Doyle

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