Losing my smartphone makes me feel …
Anxious? Lost? Fearful? Worried? Disconnected? Discombobulated?
Let’s admit it. What’s stored in the memories of our phone is beyond mere information: phone numbers are life-lines to our support system; the calendar directs our every hour, day, week, and year; photos are keys to our life that remind us of people, places, and things that, in some shape or form, have left a mark on our life. The phone becomes a repository of our stories and its content a composite of the ups and downs in our life.
We often take such lengths to guard our memories because they reveal from where we come, to whom we belong, and who we really are beneath all the glitter, dust and grime. Whenever we falter and feel that every ounce of strength has left our body and spirit, we only have to remember. Like Moses, Paul, and the young man in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, their remembrance of God’s (the Father’s) power, mercy, graciousness, patience, and unconditional love is sufficient for them to hit the reset button and turn their lives around. Their act of remembering God’s interventions in their lives propels and sustains each of them to keep trying, do better, and never be doubtful or fearful of returning to God, their true refuge and the source of all goodness.
The first reading recounts how God’s wrath against the Israelites is effectively reversed by the act of remembering. Just as Moses implores God to remember the mighty deeds that He has done for His chosen ones, the Israelites, Moses also reassures the Lord that His people do remember His mercy and that they are grateful. This exchange between God and Moses resembles a tug-of-war; punches are thrown with equal force and determination. God accuses the Israelites of being forgetful and unfaithful. As soon as God has brought them out of the land of Egypt, “they have acted corruptly. They have quickly turned aside from the way I commanded them … I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are” (Ex 32: 8-9). God tells Moses not to interfere, “Let me alone, then, that my anger may burn against them … then I will make of you a great nation” (Ex 32:10). Persistent as he is, Moses retorts by imploring God to remember all His efforts of rescuing His chosen people from Egypt “with great power and with a strong hand” (Ex 32:11). Interestingly both God and Moses use the same phrase, “whom you brought out of the land of Egypt” in this exchange; the first “you” refers to Moses while the latter refers to God (Ex 32:7,11). Perhaps, Moses wants to highlight the significance of this moment of rescue in the relationship between God and the Israelites; that God is truly their God forever and they, God’s chosen ones. Moses makes a final tug at the rope as he asks God not to forget the unbreakable bond between Himself and His people, “Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel”: God is the beginning of the Israelites’ story (Ex 32:13). When Moses reminds God to remember His mercy and promise to His people by recounting the story of escaping Egypt, he is also showing God that he remembers the goodness of God on behalf of the people. Essentially, when God rescinds the punishment, He also renews His covenant with the Israelites: “I will give your descendants as their perpetual heritage” (Ex 32:13).
In Paul’s letter to Timothy, Paul’s remembrance of his own sinful past is integral to his continuous conversion and mission. His past speaks to God’s infinite mercy and goodness. How extraordinary and moving that God pays attention to a sinner like him and patiently leads him from darkness (blindness) to light (sight). Paul never allows himself to forget his sinful past, “I was once a blasphemer and persecutor and arrogant”; however, the greater his faults, the greater is God’s grace and mercy (1Tim 1:13)! Paul testifies to the irrefutable fact that “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners” as someone who is “the foremost” of those being saved (1Tim 1:15). In this passage, we see someone who is completely overcome with humility and gratitude, committed to the ministry appointed to him by Jesus, and at the same time, willing to hold up his sins against God’s mercy “as an example for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life” (1Tim 1:15).
This week’s Gospel reading, indeed, highlights the importance of remembering and hits home for us the depth and width of God’s mercy and love. Like many other stories told by Jesus, the Parable of the Prodigal Son is a complex story layered with deep significance that urges us to embark on a personal journey of introspection. In the younger son’s darkest and most painful hour: all his wealth has been squandered, a severe famine struck; he is hungry, rejected, and alone; he finally remembers his father, decides to return home and throws himself at his feet to beg for forgiveness. His remembrance of his father’s goodness gives him strength, and perhaps courage, to “get up and go” home to confess his sins (Lk 15:18). All he wants is to be home; he is even willing to give up his sonship in exchange for forgiveness. This is a desperate man indeed! He really has no idea the width and depth of his father’s love for him. Even when he is still a long way off, his father sees him and runs to him first. The father never forgets his own son, even if the son has mercilessly abandoned him. We may imagine the father standing at the gate, day in and day out, waiting for his son’s return. What a beautiful image of God’s infinite love! The son’s shame and weakness is immediately overcome by the father’s love and strength.
To remember implies carrying people or things in one’s heart and mind. We can be assured that God constantly remembers each one of us and carries each one of us in His heart and mind. He is present not only at the beginning of our story but also throughout our long journey home. We may wander off track once in a while; however, like Moses and the Israelites, Paul, and the prodigal son, when we falter, all we have to do is to remember.