In response to those who criticise him Jesus gives three parables that show the mercy of God. What then is the problem in today Gospel?
- Exodus 32 : 7–11, 13–14
- 1 Timothy 1 : 12–17
- Gospel Luke 15 : 1–32
Welcome back son, welcome home daughter! Says the Lord
The mission of mercy questioned
The Pharisees and the scribes don’t just understand how a good Jew, a Rabbi for that matter, can mix with sinners. They are scandalised: “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Jesus answers with the parables, leaving the job to the Pharisees themselves to draw the conclusion. The first parable is of a shepherd who does the most unwise thing. He leaves 99 sheep to go in search of the single lost one. What a risk! How imprudent! The second parable is that of a woman who lost a coin. She sweeps the whole house in search for it. And the third is the father who welcomes his rebellious son with a big feast.
In all the three parables there is great joy when what was lost is found. It’s the joy of God when a sinner returns home. Let’s look a bit closely at the third parable, especially the three main characters. What do they tell us about the mercy of God?
The prodigal son
The younger son feels himself an adult. He wants to lead his life independently of anyone else. He seeks happiness outside his father’s house. It’s a sign of our pride. But he cheated himself. In fact, he only finds himself in total poverty. Then he realises that in his father’s house he would be well off even as servant. But how will his father receive him? He is not sure. He prepares a speech which he thinks would win him compassion, and then, he is on road back home.
The father of mercy
The father loves his son but he lets him go. However, his eyes remain fixed to the road. He awaits the return of the son –whenever that will be. Finally when he sees him coming, he runs to meet him. The son mumbles his prepared speech but it makes little difference to the father. Indeed, it’s not beautiful and pious words that God wants from us. Our return home suffices. And then the father throws a big feast but that annoys someone.
Bitter elder son
The elder son is obedient and hard worker. He doesn’t care waiting for the return of his brother –it’s time wasted. He has to work to keep the farm going. That’s why he is absent when his brother arrives. But when he finally comes home and learns of what’s happening. He is furious to the point of disowning his brother. He tells his father: “…when this son of yours comes back….” He doesn’t speak anymore of “my brother.” We can feel with him.
Are there not times when we have also given the best of ourselves in doing something, and yet it’s the play boys who profit more than us? The result: we harden our heart, we don’t forgive and we sever the relationship. We become sour with ourselves and with others. Just think of the difficult relationship you might be experiencing now with someone. It’s in such situation Jesus is proposing to us the parables for our reflection. What’s the message?
It’s not tolerating sin, but giving a second chance
God is merciful. With him no one is lost. Every person is given a chance to start again. What’s all important is to acknowledge my misery and have the will to go back home. That is conversion. This conversion is not just about the prodigal son who went away. The elder son too needs some change. He is bitter, he can’t forgive. That is his misery. Similarly, we too have something to put in order.
In our families we have known revolt, wastefulness, recklessness, jealous, lack of forgiveness. These are cancers that rob us the taste of life. The gospel of today invites us onto the road of reconciliation. Without forgiveness it’s just impossible to live. We need to forgive and to be forgiven, without it we suffer. To forgive is to pick ourselves up in life.
Welcoming and forgiving the strayed brother is the message of today’s gospel. God in his mercy awaits us, his arms ever open to give us an embrace of welcome back home. We are that small coin lost in the sand. With Jesus the light of the world he comes to look for us. That explains why Jesus mixes with sinners. He is on the rescue mission. Jesus wants his followers to have the same concern for the lost ones.
Let’s deal with our bitterness
At times we find it hard to forgive. We keep the grudge. We boil with anger like the elder son. We want to revenge. We have no place to forgive. But on this Sunday where we meet the merciful father, let our hearts be penetrated by the words of Moses: Why does your wrath burn against your brother, against your sister, against your parent, against your child? Turn from your burning anger; change your intention to revenge. Forgive and get reconciled.
Lord, give me the courage to make the first step towards my lost brother, towards my lost sister. Give us the joy of being a reconciled family.