Why is Christianity assumed to be a regime requiring rigour, determination and restriction? This is the view of outsiders looking in – and also of many cradle Catholics who have never gone on to make their inherited faith their own. They walk away for the best of reasons: rather than offering fullness of life, Christian commitment seems to demand a closing down of all the exciting possibilities that life has to offer.
The Pharisees found Jesus insulting because of the relish with which He demolished their assumptions about their faith. We need to be challenged in the same way today.
Matthew's Gospel reading for Sunday 11 September relates three stories which Jesus tells in response to the Pharisees' obsession with virtue and their severity in judging those who fall short. Each story turns the Pharisees' assumptions on their head: the shepherd recklessly abandons his entire flock to rescue one stray sheep; rather than rejoicing over nine golden coins that are safe and secure, a woman tears her house apart in a frenzy of destruction to find the one coin that is missing; an overindulgent parent with a selfish waster of a son responds to his latest irresponsible binge by indulging him further.
What does each story have in common? The shepherd, the woman and the father can't help themselves in their determination to save what is theirs and, in the case of the 'weak' father, he acts without the slightest evidence of any effort on the son's part to make matters easier. (My fantasy version of the story has the son slinking off again once he has recovered from his hangover. He's a serial offender.)
We are indulged every day of our lives. The Lord is obsessively determined to chase after us, irrespective of our indifference and hostility. He never gives up. The good news is simple: let God do the heavy lifting. God loves us because He can't help himself. Why is this such a well-kept secret?