11th September 2016
The first reading is one of the significant incidents in the tale of the exodus – the going out from slavery in Egypt towards the promised land. At this point in the story (Exodus 32:7-17) Moses has gone up the nearby mount Sinai and received the Ten Commandments from God; but he had been away forty days and during this time the people had forgotten this unknown God of Moses and remembered the golden calf worshipped in Egypt – an abandonment of the true god who brought them out of slavery. The account describes this depravity in terms of the wrath of God. But most interestingly, Moses intercedes with God on their behalf and reminds Him of the promises made to Abraham and his descendants, and that these are the people due for this promise. This story was kept alive in the people’s tradition because it was a pattern of betrayal and return that was repeated in their lives as a race and as individuals, and the Psalm chosen to follow this reading indicates this.
1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are called the Pastorals. They may well incorporate words from personal letters that Paul wrote, but study of the linguistic style indicates that they are from a different hand. They are nonetheless accepted as part of the New testament and give us some indication of Christian thinking in the late part of the first century. The extract we read today (1 Timothy 1:12-17)shows how the pattern of Paul’s life matched that of Israel in general; he was at first a Jew who opposed the Way of Jesus, but God loved him and brought him round to doing good and even playing an important part in the spread of Christianity. The passage includes a ‘trustworthy saying’ as do the other Pastoral letters, and ends with what is called a doxology – a paean of praise to the glory of God, to which the response is ‘Amen’ (‘hear,hear’).
The gospel (Chapter 15 of Luke) has parables told by Jesus in response to criticism by the Pharisees of His sympathetic contact with tax collectors and sinners, both groups who in one way or another were not observing the strict rules for Jewish life. The lost sheep and the parallel one about a coin are respectively about a man and a woman. Luke seems to have been sympathetic to women more than the other gospel writers. The point that these two stories make is about the pro-active relationship of God to the sinner – He goes out looking for them. In the light of the purpose of these in Luke’s gospel, the celebration of friends and neighbours when the lost is found, is very significant; why wont the Pharisees be glad about the work of Jesus? But these two parables are followed in Luke by the most well-known parable called the parable of the Prodigal Son, though if ‘prodigal’ means ‘generously lavish’ it is the father who has this generosity which represents God’s attitude to sinners. In the context of Pharisaic complaints about Jesus, the second part of the parable about the attitude of the elder son is quite significant; he doesn’t even acknowledge him as brother, but refers to him as ‘your son.’ This elder son has worked hard at home but has not really shown love to his father. The whole is a beautifully crafted and challenging story.