Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; 1 Timothy1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32
Mercy comprises of compassion and forgiveness. The focus of today’s gospel is the importance of each person before God through the eyes of mercy. The all-inclusive eyes of mercy is able to capture the true worth of humanity. The three parables in the longer variant of the gospel passage, all depict the subtle ways we react to things due to their worth. The first two parables about a lost sheep and a lost drachma are different from the third, the prodigal son. The difference is because a human being is involved in the third. The real worth of a human being can only be captured through the lens of mercy.
The reaction of the first two is understandable because a coin and animal are of economic values. A woman would light a lamp and sweep the entire room in search of one drachma. In the ancient Greece, a drachma is the average daily wage of a skilled laborer. So we could imagine the keen interest of the poor woman in the search for the missing coin. Ten drachmas means ten days wage. Her joy knows no bounds when it is found. A similar reality befalls the lost sheep. Although the ninety-nine can multiply within a year through reproduction, the shepherd knows the monetary value of the sheep that was lost. Thus he goes after it with all interest, leaving the rest in the wilderness. The idea of a wilderness brings out the importance of this search in relation to the worth of the lost sheep. The shepherded is ready to shave aside the danger inherent in the wilderness in order to recover the lost sheep. It could be that the lost may not have wondered far beyond sight. The preference to expose the ninety-nine to danger in search of one missing sheep is a decision informed by economic worth.
Our human nature makes it easier to derive the worth of the things around us due to how they affect our livelihood. The drachma and the sheep are connected with livelihood, hence from an economic point of view, we determine their importance and worth. There is joy in the heart when our economic life is stable and progressive. Our joys are always complete and life is enjoyable. The poor woman would light a lamp and sweep the entire room, while the shepherd would risk the ninety-nine sheep in the wilderness in search of the lost one. Unfortunately, when a human being is viewed through the economic lens, a distorted worth is revealed. We need a different lens for the human being.
In the second reading, St. Paul narrates a part of how he was saved by the mercy of God. According to him, ‘Mercy, however, was shown me, because until I became a believer I had been acting in ignorance; and the grace of our Lord filled me with faith and with the love that is in Christ Jesus.’ Mercy pictured his ignorance. Repentant Paul cannot be termed evil according to the Jewish laws. His was the case of a man with good will acting in ignorance. It takes mercy to discover the inner motivations that block our view of the other. We are used to the economic lens that shapes our attitude towards life. This pragmatic approach to life has shaped the understanding of reality. People are valued according to what they are worth. And worth is measured economically. Our skills and abilities are pragmatically measured. This is not the case where failure is recorded. The contemporary society does not spare mistakes. A singular instant of it is punished by exclusion.
The early Christians could not have imagined that the then Saul would be of any use to the growing community, having measured him from the point of view of the many threat he laid to their lives. Saul has been branded a threat to the Christian life, an enemy of God. But God who sees beyond the appearances beamed the lights of his mercy on him to show the world the ignorance prompting his actions. The same vigor he used in persecuting Christians is what God utilized in spreading the gospel to the gentile world.
The parable of the prodigal son mentioned in today’s gospel differs from the first two because a human being is involved. Remember that Jesus Christ said that ‘…there will be more rejoicing…’ in heaven over one sinner who repents. The joy in heaven is more than a drachmas or a sheep lost but found. The father of the prodigal son said to the angry elder brother who refused to join in the celebration, ‘…it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life…’ mercy sees life where the ordinary eyes sees death. The elder son’s inability to see life and reason for rejoicing is as a result of the blinded pragmatic vision. Instead of his beloved younger brother, he sees an intruder coming to reap where he did not sow. He has failed and should remain so. What mercy saw through the eyes of the father is a son reformed and recreated. A man that is capable of rebuilding from the scratch. A man that has learnt from his failures, determined to succeed if given the chance. A repentant sinner!
Today’s labor market places age at a high priority. One’s performance is measured by age. The teaming population has a lot of young people in the work force. That some of these qualified young people may not be hired is a possibility. That some may not have the opportunity to showcase their work skills till old age is regrettable.
On the 11thof April, 2009, an unemployed middle aged British lady, Susan Boyle, appeared as a contestant in the reality show ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. The judges laughed at her age and asked why she has come out as a contestant. In simplicity, she tells all present, ‘I want to be a professional singer’. When asked why she has not done that long before when she was younger, she simply answered, ‘I wasn’t given an opportunity to sing’. When she sang I dream a dream, a song by a famous singer Elaine Paige, she blew the judges and the audience away with her voice. Her first album was released in 2009 and rated as a bestselling album on the globe. In 2014, Susan Boyle sang in the opening ceremony of the Common Wealth games to welcome the Queen.
To avoid misjudging the capabilities and abilities of people, the readings of today advise us to look at each other not from a pragmatic point of view, rather from the all-inclusive point of view of mercy. This is how the creator looks at us. Moses had to remind God of the past in the first reading. According to him, ‘…why should your wrath blaze out against this people of yours whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with arm outstretched and mighty hand?’ Pragmatism will not capture the humble past because it is designed for gain. Our pragmatic worth is only a part of the big picture of who we are. The prodigal son is worth more than the wealth he squandered, because with his renewed energy, he will work harder to recover beyond what was lost. We possess in us a capability and ability beyond our expectations. But through the eyes of forgiveness and compassion, mercy makes us whole.
Anthony Ekpunobi, CM.