September 11, 2022
Revised Common Lectionary
Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 or Exodus 32:7-14
Psalm 14 or Psalm 51:1-10
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14
Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19 (Lk 15:18)
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10 (11-32)
“Welcome” is a word that’s often heard in church gatherings, printed in bulletins, and painted on signs. Many congregations have established welcoming committees, offer welcome packets to visitors, and hold welcome events for newcomers. While Jesus had no organized hospitality program, his life and ministry were characterized by a spirit of welcome that crossed boundaries and challenged religious sensibilities.
In today’s Gospel we read that “all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him” (Lk 15:1). Not just a few, but all of them. Rather than holding them at arm’s length or arranging for a discreet contact, Jesus made room in his inner circle. No pre-conditions, no disclaimers, just a place at the table.
The Pharisees and the scribes—the religious elites—were offended by Jesus’ disregard for convention, propriety, and clear moral stances. They grumbled: “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them” (15:2)—like that’s a bad thing.
Jesus responds to their grumbling with three parables about things lost and found, the first two of which are part of today’s Gospel reading. (The third of these stories, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, is included among the Scripture readings for Lent.)
The two parables we hear today portray someone who searches for the lost in ways that others might consider over the top, unreasonable—even desperate or dangerous. Would a responsible shepherd leave a flock of ninety-nine sheep to fend for themselves in the wilderness while he looks for that one who wandered off to God-knows-where? Would a competent household manager really tear her home apart in the hunt for one lost coin? Would someone who had found that one lost sheep or coin call their neighbors and friends together for a party so that they could rejoice with food, music, and dancing?
Jesus eats with those on the margins because that’s the way things are in the reign of God. He tells of a God who will go to ridiculous lengths to welcome the lost. At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus announced that he had come to proclaim “good news to the poor” and “release to the captives” (4:18). In the reign of God, the banquet table is open to all, not just those deemed worthy by religious leaders.
Throughout history it has all too often been the most fervent religious adherents and their leaders who have failed to recognize God’s grace at work in the lives of those standing outside their own communities. “Good people” can sometimes resent the inclusion of those who don’t seem to belong. Both the actions and teachings of Jesus loudly proclaim a God who wants to include everyone despite human attempts to build walls. Jesus bids us not only to let go of our grumbling, but to join in the singing, dancing, and merrymaking: Rejoice with me, for I have found the lost!
Now that’s a welcome program.
A Hymn for Today: “When Sudden Terror Tears Apart”
Carl P. Daw, Jr., FHS, was serving as Executive Director of The Hymn Society when he wrote this text during the week following the attacks of September 11, 2001. Since the anniversary of that cataclysmic event falls on Sunday this year, pastoral musicians might consider including this text in worship services. Daw revised the text in 2013, deleting a stanza that referred directly to the “anguished cries” of those who “watch with disbelieving stare” as “towers and fortress fall,” and adding a stanza reflecting on our inability to comprehend fully “what eye has seen and ear has heard.”
When sudden terror tears apart
the world we thought was ours,
we find how fragile strength can be,
how limited our powers.
Yet most of all we are aware
of emptiness and void:
of lives cut short, of pain and grief,
of confidence destroyed.
From this abyss of doubt and fear
we grope for words to pray,
and hear our stammering tongues embrace
a timeless Kyrie.
But neither tongue nor heart nor mind
can fully comprehend
what eye has seen and ear has heard
as sound and vision blend.
Have mercy, Lord, give strength and peace,
and make our courage great;
restrain our urge to seek revenge,
to turn our hurt to hate.
Help us to know your steadfast love,
your presence near as breath;
rekindle in our hearts the hope
of life that conquers death.
Text: Carl P. Daw, Jr, b. 1944. © 2001, rev. 2013, Hope Publishing Company. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857
Tunes: LITTLE ROLLRIGHT, DETROIT, BANGOR
Image Credit: Celebration, John August Swanson, 1997
“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.
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