It’s very easy to be judgemental, and to write people off when they do something wrong, or something with which we do not agree. It is particularly easy when emotions run high, and we feel rather than think. Emotion clouds our judgement, and we give way to anger. This is never a good thing to do.
In our first reading this morning from the Book of Exodus we hear that the people of Israel have fashioned for themselves a golden calf, an idol, a false God, whom they worship. They are a stiff-necked people: stubborn and obstinate, who will not listen to God, or do what leads to their flourishing. They deserve to be destroyed, and yet Moses prays for them to God, to be merciful, and to remember His covenant with His people. In this we see God’s grace and loving-kindness at work. It reminds us that false gods are not a good thing, and if we follow them, then we are not following God, honouring Him, or living in a way which will lead to our flourishing.
In our second reading from St Paul’s First Letter to Timothy we see that Paul has gone from being a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent opponent, to something else. He has become a champion for the Christian Faith, that ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief’. His words are ours too. Like Paul we have received God’s mercy. We don’t deserve it, just as the Israelites didn’t. That’s the point, we don’t earn forgiveness, God in his love and mercy forgives us, so that we might become something other than we are. This is the wonderful truth at the heart of the Gospel.
It is something which the scribes and pharisees in the Gospel cannot understand. Our Lord hangs around with tax collectors and sinners. These are people who collect taxes for the Romans. They were corrupt, because they had to bribe officials to get the job, and were expected to skim some extra off the top to settle their debts, and provide for themselves. Jesus goes out of His way to spend time with people who were despised, collaborators with a foreign power. The religious authorities, by contrast, are judgemental and superior. Jesus eats with people who are beyond the pale, defying social conventions, and looking beyond them to see people who need God’s love and mercy.
To illustrate His point Christ tells two parables. In the first, the Parable of the Lost Sheep, a man leaves the ninety-nine sheep to go after one which was lost. The point is that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. The scribes and pharisees think that they are righteous, but are not. The sinners and tax-collectors know that they are not righteous, but by being close to Jesus, in their humility, repentance is possible. It’s a key to the Christian life, turning away from sin, and turning back to God. It is less of an event and more of a process, something which we keep doing, throughout our lives. It’s easy to fall back into sin, but God does not abandon us. He keeps going after the lost sheep. This is good news: we are not written off. But we have to keep our end up. We have to believe in God, and trust Him, and repent, turn away from our sin, and turn back to God.
The scribes and the pharisees think that everything is alright between themselves and God. They keep the letter of the Law, but are far away from its spirit. The sinners and tax-collectors know that things aren’t right, which is why they are drawn to Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t wait for them to change before deeming them worthy of Him, instead he receives them and eats with them. God in Christ comes alongside us, seeking the lost, because God LOVES us. As St Paul says, ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’. To save us from sin, to save us from something which we could not save ourselves from.
How does He do this? On the Cross, where Christ demonstrates God’s love for us, dying the death of a common criminal. It shouldn’t make sense. It is scandalous. But such are the lengths God will go to for love of us. Through God’s love we are reconciled and forgiven. As a sign of this Christ comes to eat with us here, this morning. He gives himself, His Body and Blood for us, and He feeds us with them, so that we might have life in Him. We can touch and taste the reality of God’s love.
It’s an excuse for a party, as Christ says in the Gospel, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost’. God is not like the grumbling scribes and pharisees, being judgemental. He rejoices to welcome sinners back into the fold. He is merciful, and we have received that mercy. So let us rejoice that God has sought us out, and brought us back and restored us. As we celebrate the feast of the Kingdom of God, here today, may we be encouraged, and filled with God’s love and mercy, so that He may transform our lives. Strengthened by His Body and Blood may we live lives of faith and encourage others to do so, so that all people may give praise to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. AMEN.