Three Truths about God

Scripture Readings

Today’s long gospel reading from Luke—consisting of three of Jesus’s parables—is a commentary on just one sentence: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Jesus’s response tells us all we need to know about how our Father God views his all too fallible human creatures. Each parable tells us something important about the nature of God.

The first great truth is that God understands human frailty and actively supports us, especially when we are at our weakest. Like the shepherd with the lost sheep, God carries us when we’re too weak to carry ourselves—and, for that matter, when are we ever powerful enough to go it alone on our own without the grace of God to guide and support us? We don’t have to go looking for God’s loving care. God comes looking for us.

The second great truth this gospel teaches us is that each of us is infinitely precious in God’s eyes, and therefore God never gives up on us. We may, sometimes, doubt our own self-worth, especially when we mess things up badly—and we’ve all done it—but God never devalues us. Our value as people is not at all dependent on our behavior. God is like the woman in the parable. She does everything in her power to recover the lost coin. How long does she search for it? Hours? Days? Weeks? Months? Years? No. What does the gospel say? “Until she finds it.

The third great truth we find in today’s gospel is that God demands nothing of us. God’s love for us is unconditional. There are no criteria for entry into God’s Kingdom. You may find that surprising, especially in light of the criticisms that some self-identified Christians are fond of throwing around. “What about the Ten Commandments?” you may ask. Well, what about them? They belong to the Law of Moses. The people whom Jesus invited to his table were precisely the kinds of lawbreakers that upset the scribes and Pharisees. The father in today’s parable set down no criterion for the return of his son, and neither does our heavenly Father.

But what about punishment? What about doing penance? What about hell and eternal damnation? Sadly, we’ve got these things all wrong. If we’re even asking those sorts of questions, we’re more in sympathy with the older brother than with the father in the parable. In fact, our attitudes are more in line with those of the scribes and Pharisees. I ask you: what does punishment ever accomplish for an adult? It only creates resentment, bitterness, anger, and a hunger for revenge. If punishments actually produced the corrections they were employed for, our prisons wouldn’t have revolving doors.

As for penance…it was never meant to atone for sin. The Atonement has already happened. Another name for penance is metanoia—a change of heart—a change of behavior. Do you want to see genuine penance at work in the parable? It occurs when the young son “comes to his senses” and says, “I will get up and go to my father.” And he does. Penance doesn’t make up for anything, it just corrects bad decisions.

What about hell, then? I don’t think that God has anything to do with hell. Hell is what happens when you find yourself in a jam as the result of your own pride and arrogance and you decide not to do anything about it. It’s like finding yourself feeding the swine and going hungry and saying to yourself, “At least I did it my way.” If you’re not going to change in this life, God isn’t going to miraculously change you in the next. God doesn’t send you to hell. He doesn’t want you in hell, but he’s not going to force you to leave if you’re determined to stay there.

So, by way of the gospel, we’ve learned three critical lessons about our God: God supports us in our weakness, God never gives up on us, and God’s love for us is unconditional. The only requirement for entry into God’s kingdom is the humility to be willing to admit when we’re wrong and to change our mind and our behavior. That’s it. What could be simpler?

Readings & Homily Video

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