...his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him.
In our previous month's reflection, we discussed mercy in terms of seeking out the lost sheep and finding the lost coin.We will now see a human face of mercy in the parable of the prodigal son (which should be aptly named as the parable of the merciful father), in this month's reflection.
We have heard the parable many times over, discussed and internalized the return of the prodigal son as what we should do when we fall into sin. We realize our sins, repent and return to God. Our focus has almost always been on the younger son who wasted his life on the follies of the world and then returned to the father. We now look at a much more profound learning from the parable - the extreme mercy of God the Father.
The trigger that caused the younger son to "come to himself" (v:17) was his hunger, initially. When he realized how his household was such an abundant and loving place, he repented and humbled himself to the level of a servant. The father on the other hand, had been waiting eagerly for his son's return and runs to meet him when he sees the son coming. The joy and extreme compassion of the father is described so well (v:20) in the way he refuses to listen to the excuses of his son, but embraces and kisses him and orders his servants to lavish royalty upon him. The father does not consider anything the son did to him nor reminds him of what he has done. He showers his compassion on the son. Jesus says that this is how our Father in heaven treats us his children when we return to him. He keeps no account of our many trespasses or wrongdoing. He is just extremely merciful and loving.
The attitude of the elder son is so familiar in our lives. All that the father had, belonged to the elder son also. The elder son had been living a life not knowing the richness, abundance and mercy of his father. He was angry at the younger son, who had squandered the family inheritance among prostitutes and led a wayward life. He was angry at the father for pampering the younger son with lavish gifts and feast . The elder son distances himself from the Father and the younger son with words like "this your son". He refuses to enter the house demanding remuneration for all his long years of service to the father and the household. How very typical of us human beings. We live lives of servitude, not knowing our inheritance in the kingdom of God the Father, made possible through Jesus Christ, and then we take offence at how others around us, who may not be living as worthily as we think they should, receive all kinds of blessings.
The father goes out twice to meet his sons, first to welcome the younger son and then to meet the elder son who refused to enter the house. He is all about giving, he is all about compassion and mercy, he is all about love. In contrast, the sons were all about receiving and even demanding their right of just remuneration. The father just gives mercy and grace, because that is His character.
While the parable of the lost sheep and lost coin had definitive endings, the parable of the prodigal son leaves us with a possibility of many endings. It would be worthwhile to reflect on the parable, putting ourselves in the position of the younger son, the elder son and the father. Taking inspiration from the call "Be merciful as my father is merciful" (Luke 6:36), let us once again turn to the Father of mercy to teach us to be merciful to others around us. Even when we face indifference, anger, resentment, accusations and people who irritate us, let us imitate the extreme compassion of the Father in our lives. Let us be servants of mercy in serving out compassion to all around us, rather than being judges of mercy in judging what others receive.
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and took pity on him; running up, he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. That's what the sacred text says: he covered him with kisses. Can you put it more humanly than that? Can you describe more graphically the paternal love of God for men?
When God runs toward us, we cannot keep silent, but with Saint Paul we exclaim: Abba, Pater: Father, my Father!, for, though he is the creator of the universe, he doesn't mind our not using high?sounding titles, nor worry about our not acknowledging his greatness. He wants us to call him Father; he wants us to savor that word, our souls filling with joy.
Human life is in some way a constant returning to our Father's house. We return through contrition, through the conversion of heart which means a desire to change, a firm decision to improve our life and which, therefore, is expressed in sacrifice and self?giving. We return to our Father's house by means of that sacrament of pardon in which, by confessing our sins, we put on Jesus Christ again and become his brothers, members of God's family.
God is waiting for us, like the father in the parable, with open arms, even though we don't deserve it. It doesn't matter how great our debt is. Just like the prodigal son, all we have to do is open our heart, to be homesick for our Father's house, to wonder at and rejoice in the gift which God makes us of being able to call ourselves his children, of really being his children, even though our response to him has been so poor.
St. Josemaria Escriva
God is joyful! And what is the joy of God? The joy of God is forgiving, the joy of God is forgiving! The joy of a shepherd who finds his little lamb; the joy of a woman who finds her coin; it is the joy of a father welcoming home the son who was lost, who was as though dead and has come back to life, who has come home. Here is the entire Gospel! Here! The whole Gospel, all of Christianity, is here! But make sure that it is not sentiment, it is not being a "do-gooder"! On the contrary, mercy is the true force that can save man and the world from the "cancer" that is sin, moral evil, spiritual evil. Only love fills the void, the negative chasms that evil opens in hearts and in history. Only love can do this, and this is God's joy!
Jesus is all mercy, Jesus is all love: he is God made man. Each of us, each one of us, is that little lost lamb, the coin that was mislaid; each one of us is that son who has squandered his freedom on false idols, illusions of happiness, and has lost everything. But God does not forget us, the Father never abandons us. He is a patient father, always waiting for us! He respects our freedom, but he remains faithful forever. And when we come back to him, he welcomes us like children into his house, for he never ceases, not for one instant, to wait for us with love. And his heart rejoices over every child who returns. He is celebrating because he is joy. God has this joy, when one of us sinners goes to him and asks his forgiveness.
Angelus, Sunday, 15 September 2013
Teach the ignorant, bury the dead
This is the plea of the Father to the elder son to enter His house of joy. He loves them both; He runs out to meet both the sons; and wants both of them to join Him for the feast. Let us reflect on this passage and ask ourselves are we still outside our Father's Home wallowing on our anger and resentment, without counting His blessings in our life? Are we like the Elder son, with our self righteous complaints not letting the Father embrace and heal us? Let us look at His merciful gesture and step into the light of His great Love. Being servants of mercy, let's also help others to overcome their ignorance on being loved by God. By our presence, words and deeds let us help others to bury their sorrowful past and sins in His Mercy and to enter the new life that He offers us.
Mother Mary, Mother of good counsel, pray for us. Hail Mary...