Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Life's Blessings are Boundless – God's Love is Without Limits

First Reading (Ex 32: 7-11, 13-14): Moses asked God's mercy for the corrupt Israelites
Second Reading (1 Tim 1: 12-17): Paul is an example of the repentant sinner
Gospel (Lk 15: 1-32): Parables of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin and Prodigal Son
Chinese Classics:
-“Bo Le pitied the horse: its neighing was like the sound of metal on rock. This showed that the horse knew that Be Lo understood it.” (1)

Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance... I tell you there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repent... ’let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.” (Lk 15: 1-32 summarized)

The above passages are parables that express how God accepts, affirms and values us human beings. Every one of us is unique, important and precious, really very precious, in the eyes of God.

Some of us might doubt that a shepherd would leave ninety-nine sheep in the wilderness to go look for one lost sheep, and when he returns may find that some of the ninety-nine would have strayed away. That certainly is possible! But the shepherd in the parable did not think that way nor was he worried. He did not calculate ‘1’ or ‘99’ in the sense of more or less. He was only concerned about the sheep that had strayed away and was so precious to him.

In the eyes of God, each one of us is priceless and invaluable. The value cannot be calculated or compared by any other measure. In mathematics, every infinity equals every other infinity. One infinity is equivalent to ninety-ninety or to infinite infinities. It is the same in the eyes of God, the value of one person is no different than the value of ninety-nine. God loves each one with an infinite love and loves every single person with an infinite love. He loves the righteous and he loves the sinner.

The self-righteous Pharisees of Jesus' time could not understand this concept because their understanding of faith was mistaken and they were biased against some people.

We human beings have two kinds of limitations. We may make mistakes and we may be biased. The major difference is that the first one recognizes the mistake and corrects it, the second one sees the mistake but does not change. When a mistake has been made, people can argue about it and through discussion often reach the truth. However, when prejudice is present, one discovers that discussion is useless, because the longer one argues the harder it is to discover the truth.

Here is an example. Throughout the decade of the ‘90’s and into the first part of 2000, it was almost impossible for those in Hong Kong who were termed 'pro-China' and others termed 'democrats' to discuss anything objectively or unemotionally, nor could a person of one group use whatsoever rationale to change the mind of the other group. Or could members of the 'underground' and 'official' sections of the church in China reach reconciliation with each other through discussion, sharing or analysis. The reason was there was prejudice and misunderstanding on both sides which only deepened when they tried to discuss.

Often when a big generation gap exists in families it is due to prejudice. One sometimes sees children who find it very difficult to understand their parents' feelings, and parents who cannot understand their children's thinking. In their relationship with each other one seldom or never sees any of the most basic elements such as mutual acceptance, tolerance, forgiveness or understanding.

During Jesus' time there existed among the Jews this kind of prejudice toward those they deemed 'sinners.' Because of such bias, they were unwilling to come into contact with anyone who might be considered a 'sinner.' A clear example was the way in which some Pharisees would clutch their long robes tightly in their hands so as to avoid any contact with sinners who might cause them to be 'unclean.'

Jesus' actions were just the opposite. He was always in contact with sinners and made friends with them. He said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” (Mt 9: 12-13)

That is why today's Gospel says that the tax-collectors and outcasts came near Jesus to listen to his teaching. This aroused grumbling among the Pharisees and Scribes. They said, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Lk 15:2).

So Jesus told them the above three parables, the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. All three of the parables strongly emphasize the same message: God loves sinners and is especially happy when He sees the sinner repent.

But will God's love lead a sinner to sin even more? Will indulgence induce evil? What is the difference between forgiveness and permissiveness?

In the “Book of the Warring Kingdoms” there is a story called ‘Bo Le Pitied the Horse.’ A thoroughbred horse was maltreated in its old age. When Bo Le saw this he was deeply grieved. He alighted from his carriage and went to pat the horse. He could not help but shed tears of pity. The thoroughbred was moved and neighed long and loud. “Its neigh was like the sound of metal on rock. This shows that the horse knew that Bo Le understood it.”(1)

If we really have experienced and felt God's forgiveness, sympathy and love, how can we refrain from being converted, and on the contrary continue to hurt God by our sins? Is it possible that God's love and forgiveness is not as great as Bo Le's pity for the horse?