Exodus 32, 7-11, 13-14 + Psalm 51 + 1 Timothy 1, 12-17 + Luke 15, 1-32
Those scribes and pharisees complain because they think Jesus should be eating with them. They don’t think that those tax gatherers and sinners deserve the attention and the presence of Jesus. They are the good and holy ones who deserve the pleasure and privilege of eating with Jesus. They think Jesus owes them his attention and favor.
Now look how this thinking and this attitude of privilege frames our Gospel today. It starts with the good and holy scribes and pharisees complaining; and it ends with the good, loyal, hard working son complaining in the same way. He deserves a party, the fatted calf, but the father waits and runs out with ring a robe for that other one who does not deserve it. It’s not fair!
As I say that, I am reminded of my little five year old grand nephew with whom I spent two months this summer. Other than, “I didn’t do it.” The next most frequently heard saying from his lips was: “It’s not fair.” It was his constant compaint when his older brother got to do something, play longer, or stay up later than he did. I would say to him: “Who told you life was fair? Get over it. It is not a matter of what you deserve. It’s a matter of what you do when you know it’s not fair.” Then he would look at me, wrinkle up his forehead, and walk away disgusted. The poor child is growing up under the impression that he deserves things because he is cute and clever, and that when he behaves nicely he is going to get some prize when in fact, good behavior is nothing special. When he looks at me like that, I think I know how God feels, and certainly how Jesus felt as the scribes and pharisees complained: “It’s not fair.” I think I hear that older son saying the same thing.
It’s a troubling and challenging situation in this fifteenth chapter of Luke. Troubling to people like you and me, the faithful ones who pray, attend Mass, contribute, and listen to God’s Word. It’s challenging too because often we are tempted to think we are not getting what we deserve, God is not attentive to our prayers, while others who don’t go to church or do not seem to lead holy lives and make any sacrifice for the work of the church get along just fine and sometimes have it better than we do! It’s not fair!
So we tell once again these Gospel stories in gratitude and wonder. Grateful first of all that God is not like us who are always measuring out so carefully what is deserved, fair, and just. Because this world over which we have authority is anything but fair and just to those we judge to be undeserving.
Grateful too because we have the undeserved faith to receive this revelation about God and share the joy of those who are lost, rather than sink into complaining resentment.
There is something awesome and wonderful here too in these stories that reveal a God whose grace and love surpases even justice. These stories sustain our hope that our God will wait and watch for us to get over ourselves and rejoice with him. The saddest thing about this last story we know so well is the refusal of the older brother to come into the party and share the joy. The refusal to rise above complaining resentment over God’s gracious love still threatens us, but yet there is hope and promise found in this eucharist we celebrate. Shared enough in the spirit of this Gospel, we are drawn, tempted, teased, and invited to joy for the truth is, we too have been found in spite of ourselves.