Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 132

So the LORD relented in the punishment he had threatened to inflict on his people.

After the great flood had receded, Noah and his family disembarked, planted vineyards, built houses, and began to repopulate the earth. Then Noah planted a vineyard, reaped grapes, made wine and got stinking drunk. One of his sons laughed at his father's foolishness and was banned from the family -- and the cycle of sin started again where it had left off before the flood. Noah’s drunkenness led to a family dispute and irreconcilable division.

Whenever we’re tempted to quit and start over, we should recall that story. Whether we’re talking about marriage or family, overeating or smoking cessation, the results will be the same if we only quit and start over.  

Many Americans today will remember our experience of fifteen years ago. Many will recall hearing the news; they will remember “like yesterday” exactly what they were doing, where they were, and how they responded.

Perhaps, after fifteen years, we will also remember that nothing really changed on that day fifteen years ago. We were already feeling very insecure; we had experienced major acts of terrorism in Oklahoma City and New York City.  The Trade Towers had been attacked once before. The ancient conflict between Christianity and Islam had already re-appeared in the Suez Canal crisis in the 1950’s, the appearance of OPEC, the killing of Marines in Lebanon and President Reagan’s attempt to kill Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.

Perhaps, after fifteen years, we can see the big picture more clearly; we can remember the long story. Perhaps we’re more ready to admit, retaliation only makes matters worse. It does not erase memories; it quits nothing and starts nothing over.

Today’s passage from Exodus recalls how the Lord threatened to quit the covenant with the Israelites and start over with Moses as the new patriarch. He would be a new Abraham for a new nation. As tempting as that might have been for Moses, he refused the offer. He pleaded with God to remember the promises he had made to Abraham, Isaac and Israel, that he would make their descendants “as numerous as the stars in the sky.”

Moses persisted and the Lord relented. God has initiated a covenant with his people; and, although they are chronically unfaithful to the covenant, they will not let him renege. The Prophet simultaneously demands reform from the people and patience from God. The human partner of God admits our frailty but remembers our history. There’s no point in quitting and starting over for we’re always and inevitably the same people.

When the prodigal son returned to his father he promised nothing; he only admitted he does not deserve to be called “your son.” The father did not suppose his son had changed. He only insisted, “Your brother has returned and we have to celebrate.” 

Perhaps the older son had supposed that story was over. Perhaps he thought, "The kid is gone; he was never good for much in the first place. Good riddance!" But– as anyone who watches soap operas can tell you – stories are never finished. Chapters may end but the story continues.
Reconciliation quits nothing and forgets nothing, but it does restart from where we left off. “Your brother has returned. Perhaps he has learned something in the meanwhile; perhaps he will bring that experience home with him. Perhaps the pigs taught him how to work. In any case he is your brother; you cannot cut him out of your life.”

Jesus insists we must strive to enter life through the narrow gate of reconciliation. "If your brother sins against you, forgive him seventy times seven time!" Passing through the narrow gate we tread the slender path of communion. God does not permit us to quit, nor can we permit God to abandon us.

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.