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Sunday 11 September 2022: Trinity 13, Twenty-fourth in Ordinary time, Proper 19

What do we value? What does God value?

Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 51(50):3-4,12-13,17,19; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32

By Simon Wright

Roman Catholic Permanent Deacon, serving in Hemel Hempstead

Context: for both at an early morning quiet contemplative mass with a mainly elderly congregation and a later mixed family-based congregations; in a parish serving a demographically, economically and ethnically diverse population drawn from more than ten nations

Aim: to explore the secular concept of value, what it means to us and what it means to God; to help people to reconnect with God by understanding God’s view of value, knowing that we will be welcomed with mercy and joy

In my day job as a systems engineer, I often speak about value. Does system A provide more value than system B? Which one should we buy? What feature does the user most value in the product? Does product upgrade number one provide more value that upgrade number two? At the end of the day all these questions boil down to the same thing: which options offers the best value for money? Do you see the temptation? The temptation is to measure value by comparing it with wealth.

WHAT DO THE ISRAELITES AND MOSES VALUE?

In our first reading the Israelites fall into this trap, they make an idol out of gold to represent God, they make something of high value to represent something they value highly. This angers God (although, to be fair to the Israelites, they had not yet received the tablets of stone forbidding the making of graven images, so they had acted in ignorance).

Moses, knowing this, pleads with God, asking Him to remember the promise made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to remember the many descendants they would have, and to remember the promise of land for their heritage. This is a selfless act; but did you notice what God offers to Moses in reply? ‘Of you, (Moses) however, I will make a great nation.’ God offers Moses the same promise given to his ancestors. But rather than accept this great honour, Moses shows that he values the status quo, preferring the existing covenant with God to a new covenant of which he would be the sole beneficiary.

WHAT DO WE, SAINT PAUL AND THE PSALMIST VALUE?

In our Gospel reading we have two very similar parables. A man loses one percent of his flock, so he sets off to find the missing one-in-a-hundred, not returning until the sheep is found. Again, a woman loses ten percent of her cash, and she searches until she finds the one missing coin from her savings of ten coins. On finding what they had lost both seekers rejoice, not celebrating alone but inviting their friends and neighbours to join them in their rejoicing, clearly demonstrating how much they value the wealth that was lost but is now found.

In our second reading Saint Paul acknowledges his past and thanks God for the spiritual wealth of mercy, grace and love that he has received in Christ Jesus. Like the Israelites in our first reading Saint Paul acted in ignorance when he first met Christians, persecuting them. He writes, ‘I used to be a blasphemer and did all I could to injure and discredit the faith.’ But Paul was not condemned, rather he was saved and put on the right path. Clearly, Paul values his redemption above all else. ‘I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, and who judged me faithful enough to call me into his service even though I used to be a blasphemer.’

The psalmist also values spiritual wealth. ‘Have mercy on me, God. In your compassion blot out my offence. Wash me more and more from my guilt, cleanse me from my sin. A pure heart create for me, O God, put a steadfast spirit within me. Do not deprive me of your holy spirit.’ Wow, that’s quite a shopping list of wishes for spiritual wealth.

WHAT HUMANS VALUE AND WHAT GOD VALUES

These passages clearly show what human beings value – gold, the status quo, possessions, God’s compassion and mercy and God’s Holy Spirit. But for me the question that intrigues me the most is, what does God value?

In the last line of today’s psalm there is hope: ‘A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn.’ This hope is confirmed in our gospel passage. Jesus says, ‘I tell you, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine virtuous men who have no need of repentance.’ And he repeats this revelation, ‘I tell you, there is rejoicing among the angels of God over one repentant sinner.’

God values us all and God especially values us when we repent of our sins. At various times in our lives, we have all been the lost sheep, we have all been the lost coin; and God, in the form of Jesus, is always ready to greet us when we return to the fold. But even more than that, even when we are lost in our worldly ways Jesus is actively looking for us to find us and to bring us back – back not to condemnation but back to mercy and celebration.

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