“Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost.”
We are all sinners despite our good intentions and resolutions, offending God in our thoughts, words, actions, and inactions. Some of us repent and return to God, begging for forgiveness and opening our hearts to His mercy. But still very few of us also really reflect on self, sin and God.
Repentance from sin and the experience of God’s mercy and forgiveness must be accompanied by this reflection if we are ever going to break the cycle of sin in our lives. Reflecting on self, we ask, “What have I learned about myself, my weaknesses, and my need for God’s grace to uphold me always?” Reflecting on sin, we ask, “What have I learned about sin from this experience?” Reflecting on God, we ask, “What have I learned about God and His love from me?”
The three parables of Jesus in today’s Gospel is to help the complaining Pharisees and scribes to reflect on themselves, sin and God’s love. Reflecting on themselves, they are to see themselves as the lost, helpless and confused sheep instead of the ninety-nine who do not stray from the fold. Like the lost sheep, we sinners are completely incapable of returning to God on our own. Reflecting on sin, they are to see how sin confuses us and separates us from God. Reflecting on God, they are to see how God comes searching until He finds us. Our God rejoices in forgiving us and He never rejoices alone, “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.”
The Prodigal Son has the chance to reflect and repent while standing hungry in the pigsty in a foreign country, “He came to his senses.” He reflected for first time on his father’s generosity and goodness, his own sinful actions and where it has led him, “How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying of hunger.” He first of all learned something about himself – that he was a sinner, ungrateful and wasteful, “I have sinned against heaven and against you.” He learned something about sin in his life – that he could never know in advance where sin would lead him until he actually sinned. Maybe he had just wanted some independence from the father and could not wait for his father to die to get his inheritance. But he had never envisaged that he would one day find himself in a foreign country suffering a severe famine, broke, jobless, abandoned by friends, working in a pigsty, longing for a share in the pigs’ food, and receiving nothing in return from people with whom and for whom he had spent all that he had, “But nobody gave him anything.” Lastly, he learned something about his father’s love for him when he repented and returned home – that his father will never treat him like a hired worker no matter the pain he has caused him. He learned that the father loved him more than the property he had taken and squandered. He learned that the father found great joy in forgiving him and treating him like a son. He learned that the father never celebrates alone, “Let us celebrate with a feast because this son of man dead and has come back to life again.”
St. Paul in today’s Second Reading writes to encourage the young but timid Timothy, bishop of Ephesus. The letter shows St. Paul’s deep repentance and what he has gleaned from reflecting on his sins and the mercy of God. He has learned something about his sinful self, “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant… Christ came into the world to save sinners, of these I am the foremost.” He has also learned that God was not content with just forgiving him for his sins but God “strengthened him,” and “considered him trustworthy in appointing him to the ministry.” St. Paul encourages Timothy by showing himself as a poster boy for the mercy of God as he writes emphatically, “But I have been mercifully treated!” Timothy is thus assured of God’s mercy and grace for him in his youth.
God had brought something good and beautiful out of the sins of St. Paul because his repentance was accompanied by deep and honest reflection. It is this humble acceptance of his sinfulness, repentance from sin, and experience of God’s merciful love that will prompt St. Paul to write those consoling words, “We know that in everything God works for good for those who love Him.”(Rom 8:28) Yes, when we truly love God, all things, including our sins, work for our good, if only we too are ready to accept, repent and reflect on self, sin and God’s love.
When our repentance lacks this reflection, we enter helplessly into the endless cycle of sin like the Israelites in the First Reading who go from one form of slavery to another. Delivered from the slavery of Egypt, led by God to Mount Sinai, brought into a covenant with God, they eventually opted for another form of slavery to a molten calf.
But if our repentance is backed with sincere and honest reflection, we will realize three truths deeply that will help nurture our love for God and help us break the cycle of sin in our lives. Without this reflection, we will never know how weak and sinful we are and how much we need divine grace to uphold us until we fall into sin. Secondly, we never know where sin will lead us to or all the disastrous consequences of our sinful actions until we actually sin. Lastly, we will never know the depth of the Father’s love for us and His readiness and willingness to forgive us our sins and share with us His own abiding joy until we repent and return to Him.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we all are sinners who are loved by a God who will never turn His back on us no matter how long we have turned our backs on Him. We show our love for Him by acceptance, repentance and reflection. In acceptance, we accept our sins and sinfulness with humility without any denial, excuses, or pretension and we accept our need and dependence on His grace at every moment to keep us faithful. This acceptance and taking responsibility for our sins is not common today as we hear such things as, “He, she, or it made me sin.” “I am really a nice and loving person deep down inside.” “I am not as bad as so and so.” “I was born like this and there is nothing that I can do.” “Everyone else is doing it.” “Maybe a change of job, a new relationship, or a long vacation will help us get over our sinful lives.”
In repentance, we form the habit of returning to God immediately and always, especially in the sacrament of Reconciliation where we can say with our own lips, “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned” and receive the mercy of God and a deeper share in His joy. In reflection, we learn something from this experience about ourselves and our areas of weakness, about our sins and sinful patterns and about God’s merciful love for us. This is how show our love for God, prepare to break the cycle of sin in our lives, and allow God to make all things work for our good.
If we find reflection difficult, we can learn from our sinless mother Mary. She repeatedly “pondered all these things in her heart.” In her sinless heart, she continuously learned more and more about herself and God’s love for her and thus allowed God to make all things work for her good in all her trials and pains. Drawing close to her, she will let us participate in her own lively and patient faith that can perceive the good that God is doing even in the darkness of our lives.
“Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners, of this I am the foremost.” The blood of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, has been shed and this blood is what is searching for each and every one of us strayed and straying sheep. He will never stop searching for us, so let us never stop accepting our sinfulness, repenting wholeheartedly and reflecting on self, sin and His love.
In this Eucharist, Jesus offers us both mercy for past sins and grace to fight courageously against sin in ourselves and in our world. He is the God who rejoices always in forgiving us our sins. He is the God who refuses to celebrate alone. He is the God who alone can make all things work for our good, even our sins, if only we love Him enough to accept, repent and reflect always.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!