YEAR C: HOMILY FOR THE 24TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY THEME: “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7)
BY: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
HOMILY: Luke 15:1-32
Paint-by-numbers canvases and similarly directive coloring books were multitude in our house of six kids way back when. I have dim recollections of Mom hunched over the dining room table delicately brushing oils onto the textured surface flowing with thin blue lines and faintly printed numbers as we kids worked diligently beside her with our crayons on pictures of Mickey Mouse and Sleeping Beauty. While we wore our crayons down to nubs, I think Mom bored of her project rather quickly, for paint-by-numbers gave way to ceramics classes as our house filled with antique-looking vases, delicately-featured statues and gilded picture frames, all attesting to Mom’s creativity, something paint-by-numbers didn’t allow. Her switch to ceramics was also a rebellion of sorts, for she was not one to live by others’ expectations. She was determined to draw her own lines and choose her own colors.
Drawing our own lines and choosing our own colors: these are commendable attributes for the budding artist, but it can be a risky way to live. Painting outside the lines is one thing; living outside the lines quite something else. In the gospel passage we hear today, the Pharisees and scribes grumble as Jesus befriends tax collectors and sinners. When questioned about his association with those who have chosen to live outside the confines of the strict law to which the Jewish leaders subscribe, Jesus says, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7)
In these words, Jesus was not criticizing Jewish law and those who faithfully adhered to it; rather, he demonstrated the wideness of his heart by reaching out to those who had chosen, either through ignorance or informed dissent, to live apart from the law. And, to be sure, Jesus was not addressing just the sinners of his own day but all of us as well, heirs of our first parents who decided in the Garden of Eden to toss the paint-by-numbers set into the trash, drawing their own lines and choosing their own colors.
On the one hand, it may seem a noble venture to live “outside the lines,” casting aside the cautions of religion and society, navigating life as master of one’s own destiny. On the other hand, the time-worn constrictions so easily forsaken might have served as wayside markers, assisting life’s traveler to negotiate perilous hairpin turns that have caused injury or death to previous travelers. In short, if one is considering a paint-by-numbers project, those pre-printed lines on the canvas may be a hindrance to creativity, but as one considers the human journey, the lines mark boundaries whose crossing may mean grave danger. And it’s this interpretation, I believe, that motivates Jesus to spent so much time with sinners. Wanting to keep those living “outside the lines” from harm, he befriends them, eats with them and embraces them, all the while gently leading them back to the fold, back to the company of those safely “inside the lines.”
In reply to the faithful observers of the law who criticized him for fraternizing with sinners, Jesus said, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7) Likewise, there will be great joy in heaven when even one person “living outside the lines” chooses to step back into the fold.