Studying God’s Word

Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-32 or 15:1-10 [132C]
The readings for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time focus on those lost on the journey of life, whether through one’s individual choices or through circumstances beyond one’s control. The good news of the Gospel is that God seeks those lost with a fervent desire to welcome them home.
The first reading from the Book of Exodus is an excerpt from Exodus 32, a chapter detailing Israel’s apostasy (abandonment of the faith) in the desert. The Book of Exodus covers the birth and call of Moses, God’s miraculous interventions to rescue Israel from hundreds of years of Egyptian slavery, and the early stages of Israel’s forty years of desert wanderings. The story of the golden calf, part of which is heard in today’s reading (see Ex 32:1-35 for the complete story), is arguably one of the lowest points in their desert journey toward the Promised Land. When Moses was delayed in coming down from the mountain where he received the Ten Commandments, some of the Israelites became impatient, concerned that Moses had ether died or had deserted them. Out of fear and uncertainty, some of the Israelites, under Aaron’s directives, fashioned a golden calf from their jewelry and began to worship it and sacrifice to it as their god. Today’s reading picks up on God’s reaction to this apostasy. God is characterized as filled with “wrath” with every intention to destroy those guilty of this grave sin. But Moses intervenes for his people before God, imploring God to remain faithful to the covenantal promises made to the patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In what can be defined as one of Moses’ greatest moments in the desert, he successfully appeals to God on behalf of those Israelites lost in their fear for the future and for those Israelites insufficiently grounded in their faith. For the people of Israel, an important lesson was learned that day: God listens to the prayers of petition for those lost and lacking in faith. 
The Gospel reading is the entire chapter 15 of Luke. We hear today parables of the lost—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost (prodigal) son. In numerous ways, these three parables continue one of Luke’s favorite themes—the great reversal. In the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin, Jesus declares there is more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need for repentance. In the parable of the lost (prodigal) son, here too, the father rejoices over his lost and found son, arguably more so than over his ever faithful son. The great reversal is seen in God’s unexpected and disproportionate reaction to finding things lost. At the heart of the reversal (which is really the human expectation of outcomes) lies God’s unimaginable mercy and forgiveness. These parables challenge us to see those among us lost and lacking in faith from the perspective of the divine, eager to rescue them from being adrift.
Over the next three Sundays, the second reading comes from the First Letter of Timothy. Both 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are commonly referred to as the Pastoral Letters. Nearly all scholars are convinced these Pauline letters were composed around AD 100 by the next generation of Pauline leaders. They faithfully adapted Paul’s theology and ethics to their current circumstances. In today’s reading, we hear the author of 1 Timothy speak of God’s mercy shown to Paul. Considered as the “foremost” of sinners in his early persecution of the church, who “acted out of ignorance in my unbelief,” God even treated Paul (lost in zeal) with divine mercy.
Dr. Daniel J. Scholz