In ancient times, people lived mostly in fear of the gods. When lighting and thunder, storms and chaos fell from the skies, they believed it was the anger and wrath of the gods punishing them for their offences against the gods. Even the Israelites, who know of the one and only God, still perceived God as sending punishments upon the people for their sins.
It was also believed by the ancients that those with wealth and power and privilege among the people were receiving the favour of the gods. The poor were of no interest to the gods, and were left on their own, victims of whatever fate should befall them.
Jesus brings a new vision of God. God is a loving Father for all people. God is not the God of fire and brimstone, he is their loving and merciful Father. God desires not death and destruction, rather life for every person. Perhaps, most radical of all Jesus’ revelations, is the revelation that the poor and broken, the weak and the powerless, yes and above all - the sinner, were first on the list of those the Father has sent Jesus to call.
So in today’s gospel we have an example of Jesus bringing this good news to the people by using an example from their own daily experience; a wedding feast. Here Jesus demonstrates that the way they think is not the way God thinks and acts. A wedding celebration was of highest importance to the people. So when they planned a wedding and prepared a guest list of those to be invited, seating was of high importance. Those thought of most highly would be given the places of privilege. But in the wedding feast of heaven, the least important, the least worthy are given priority, because no one is to be left off the list.
In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus makes it plain and clear; I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Lk. 15:7
This is what is at the heart of this Year of Mercy. It is not to proclaim a “get-out-of-jail-free-year”. The need for repentance has never been greater than it is today. Rather, Pope Francis wants us to stop judging one another. We are not to be making list of those we deem not worthy of our concern. We are to consider those who need to be on our list; on our list of those to pray for, those to reach out to, those with whom we need to be reconciled. Let us not forget, we all are sinners too, we are not on God’s mercy list because we are so holy and wonderful.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:1