Breath of the Spirit: A Reconciliation Within Reach

It is tempting these days to ruminate on the divisions and difficulties in our world. But this weekend’s reflection invites us to recognize all the possibilities for reconciliation that surround us. If we realize that God’s love is always within reach (indeed, within us), we recognize that reconnection requires only one small step toward forgiveness.

 

September 11, 2022: the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14

Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19

I Timothy 1:12-17

Luke 15:1-32

 

A Reconciliation Within Reach

A reflection by John Falcone

This week, as Americans mark the twenty-first anniversary of September 11th, many things are not looking good. There are climate catastrophes and factional conflicts. Black lives – and so many others – keep ending in violence. Trans people are being scapegoated, and women’s rights and welfare are being rolled back. Our young people are coming of age in a world that is figuratively and literally catching fire.

I want all of us (me included) to repent: to turn away from desperation, fearmongering, and short-sighted self-interest. I want all of us (me included) to be reconciled: to come together across differences, to work for common goods.

This week’s readings may point a way forward.

In the first reading, the Israelites have escaped from Egypt, but it’s been forty days since Moses climbed up out of sight onto Mt. Sinai, and the group feels alone and abandoned. They build a golden statue, much like the gods that they left back in Egypt. This flashy symbol becomes their sacred security blanket, the focus of their partying, and the object of their praise. God is disgusted, but Moses calms the divine anger: “Our God relented, and the disaster that threatened the Israelites was forestalled.” (Ex 32:14) Even in the face of nationwide, gold-plated self-delusion, our God stands ready to reconnect.

In the second reading, St. Paul attributes his conversion to the experience of Christ’s patient love: “I used to be a blasphemer, a violent man … but Christ came to save sinners like me.” (1 Timothy 1:13, 15)

In the shorter version of this week’s Gospel reading (Luke 15:1-10), the main characters move heaven and earth to find something precious: a lost sheep and a lost silver coin. When they find it, they call for a party. “Rejoice with me! I have found what was lost!” Ancient commentators take special note of the numbers in these parables. The shepherd has 99 sheep; finding the lost one restores the full count to 100. The householder has nine silver pieces; finding the lost one restores the full count to ten. For early Christians, these parables are not just about individual salvation, but about communities that are restored and made whole.

These readings offer me hope. We all make mistakes, as individuals and as communities. We make mistakes that hurt others; we misidentify what's really good for us; we misconstrue God’s desire for us. We find it easy to fall back on old patterns. Some of these patterns encourage us to step on others and take advantage; some keep us feeling victimized, powerless, and alone.

But we don’t need to stay lost. We don’t need to stay trapped in violence, avoidance, or self-delusion. If we open ourselves, we may see the Divine Love which has always been with us. Relationships can be reconciled. Communities can come back together and seek common goods.

But how do we open ourselves and see the Love that is already and always with us? The longer version of this week’s Gospel reading includes Luke 15:11-32, “The Prodigal Son.” One line from that story keeps coming back to me. The younger son has squandered his half of the property and returns home, penniless and ashamed. The father sees him far off and comes running. Before the young man can fully apologize, the father gives him a bear hug and calls for a feast. When the elder son hears what has happened, he refuses even to enter the house. The father comes out once again – this time to plead with the furious brother. “My child!” he says. “You are with me always, and everything that I have is yours. But we have to celebrate and rejoice! This brother of yours was dead and has come back to life. He was lost and now he is found.”

For me, the key line is, “You are with me always, and everything that I have is yours.” When I feel victimized, friendless, and without resources, I don’t want anyone to find and expose me. I don’t want to open up or to reconnect with another, and I don’t feel like listening to what they have to say. But when I experience that I’m loved and appreciated, when I realize that I have everything I need, it’s easier to listen, to reconnect, and to forgive – even if those with whom I am upset have not apologised, even if they have not admitted to being wrong.

The Eucharist Prayer for Reconciliation puts it beautifully: “In the midst of conflict and division, we know it is you, [God,] who turn our minds to thoughts of peace. Your Spirit changes our hearts: enemies begin to speak to one another, those who were estranged join hands in friendship, and nations seek the way of peace together.” When I remember that I’m always with  God’s powerful Spirit, when I notice the love, courage, and spiritual resource that are already mine: that’s when hope, reconciliation, and restoration feel like they might be in reach.

 

John P. Falcone is a practical theologian, religious educator, and a practitioner of Theatre of the Oppressed (PhD, Boston College). He has been a Dignity member for more than 20 years with close links to Dignity NY, where he met his husband Matias Wibowo in 2005. He is currently Theologian-in-Residence at St. Matthew’s Bethnal Green (Church of England) in London’s East End.

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