Scripture in Depth
Reading I: Exodus 32: 7-11, 13-14
The caption calls attention to Yhwh’s abandonment of his intention to punish Israel for making the golden calf and worshiping it. But the really significant feature of the text is Moses’ action as a mediator.
He makes intercession for the Israelites by pleading the promise of God to the patriarchs. This picture caught the attention of the psalmist (Psalm 106:23). In this respect, as in others, Moses foreshadows the messianic work of Christ.
There is no New Testament passage that directly recalls this incident, but the same mediatorial function is ascribed to Jesus as is performed here by Moses. On the cross Jesus prays: “Father, forgive them.”
He now lives in heaven as the high priest to make intercession for his people (though in Hebrews this is Aaronic rather than Mosaic typology); and he is given the title “mediator” between God and his people (1 Timothy 2:5, to be read next Sunday) as Moses had been mediator between Yhwh and Israel.
Responsorial Psalm: 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19
It will help us to relate this psalm to the foregoing reading if we think of it as uttered by Christ in his capacity as mediator. He takes our sin upon himself, even to the extent of confessing our sin on our behalf.
In his work Atonement and Personality (1917), R. C. Moberly, an Anglican, built up an impressive interpretation of the atonement as a perfect act of repentance performed by Christ on our behalf.
Reading II: 1 Timothy 1:12-17
If, as many modern scholars think, the pastoral letters are the work of a later author who was a member of the Pauline school, this passage is nevertheless thoroughly impregnated with the mind of the Apostle.
It speaks of the understanding of the atonement that Paul acquired in the miracle of his apostolic call.
That was a sheer act of “overflowing grace” to one who acknowledged himself to be the “foremost of sinners” because he had persecuted the Church.
Gospel: Luke 15:1-32
The Gospel consists of three parables: the twin parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, and the parable of the prodigal son. (The short form gives only the twin parables.) The parable of the prodigal son already occurred by itself on the fourth Sunday of Lent in series C.
Prefaced by the twin parables, the story of the prodigal son acquires an accent it does not have when it stands alone. Taken alone, the emphasis is on the prodigal son’s initiative in returning home.
The twin parables emphasize the prevenient action of God in seeking and saving the lost, a thought that is then carried over into understanding the action of the father in the third parable: while the returning prodigal was still at a distance, his father “ran” and welcomed him home.
Thus understood, all three parables are linked with the atonement, which, as we have seen, runs like a thread through all the readings of the day.
While the earlier readings employed the Christ-to-God aspect of the atonement, the Gospel balances this aspect with the movement of God through Christ to humankind.
The atonement is not the human act of the Son appeasing an angry Deity, but God’s gift to his people, in which he undertakes to do for them what they could not do for themselves.
Christ is the presence of God in human form for our sake, seeking and saving the lost.
Reginald H. Fuller
**From Saint Louis University