10 March 2013
2 Cor 5:17-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
There is a widow, who lives not too far from us who has two sons. One is hardworking and obedient, the other has been causing her great problems for years. He is an alcoholic, has been in and out of prison a number of times for stealing. He continually promises his mother that he will change but so far has not. Her relatives and friends tell her to throw him out of the house and have nothing more to do with him. But she says she cannot do this as he is her son and she loves and forgives him despite the great shame and suffering he causes her.
She reminds me very much of the father in today’s story. We are told a man had two sons. Evidently, the younger brother is a scoundrel. Even his decision to return home is based on self-interest. There are three people in this story. Let us turn our attention away from the prodigal son, so-called, because the parable is mainly interested in the father.
Isn’t it hard to believe fully the parable of Jesus? What human father would have acted in that way? We would call him a crazy father since he knew what type of character his son was and yet he gives him half the share of his inheritance. The son is true to form and spends it wastefully on a life of debauchery. What is unexpected is not so much that the father welcomed him back but that he holds a great feast for him.
To accept the son back, to forget everything, to begin things again as they were before may be acceptable. But to organise a feast, to kill the animal that was being kept for the big occasion, to give the son, a cloak, a ring and sandals as if for a sumptuous marriage celebration – that is impossible to imagine.
But the parable does not speak in a way we human beings do things or are accustomed to act. Our parable is speaking of God exactly as he is. God is the prodigal father who runs towards the lost son, clasps him in his arms, without asking for any explanation, without giving him a scolding or criticising him.
To tell us who God really is, Jesus tells us this story and invites to be a participant in the telling. God is so different from what we expect God to be. It is so different from our experience that it is hard to imagine that this is who God really is. Usually we say to ourselves ‘if I were God this is what I would do, especially in the case of someone convicted of a very serious crime’. But I am not God and my ways are not God’s ways which is exactly what Jesus is trying to get us to accept.
God is extravagant. He is extravagant in his love and mercy towards us. He comes to meet us as we are, sinners, often so undeserving of his love. Yet he comes to us to lead us to a terrific feast in heaven, the foretaste of which is the Eucharist. Jesus is trying to help us to a different way of looking at God. Because for the most part we have been brought up with the idea of a profit and loss God. That is if we are good we will be rewarded and if we do bad we will be punished. This is difficult to reconcile with today’s parable.
Look at the experience of Jesus. He spoke to sinners who listened to him – Matthew and Zaccheus the tax collectors who defrauded others; prostitutes, people caught in adultery, social and religious outcasts, like the 10 lepers. He broke the Sabbath when the higher law of love for another human being demanded this. No wonder all these people flocked to Jesus to hear his liberating message. Yet he still challenged them as he does us to turn away from attitudes and behaviours that are not life-giving or life-empowering for others.
Jesus met the elder son in the Pharisees and lawgivers of his day, many of whom were locked into their own conviction that they were right and knew the way to earn God’s acceptance and a place in his kingdom. They thought they had rights over God and guarded him jealously. Jesus understands these people too and tried his very best to get them to come to know God as he really is but they were too engrained in their ways and finally got rid of him because he was too subversive, according to their way of thinking.
Basically Jesus came to teach us who God really is. He came to bring the Good News of freedom, to invite us all, sinners and virtuous alike to the banquet. We may not want to accept this, we may not want to sit down with those we consider unworthy.
Which of the two sons in the parable do I identify most with, the younger son or the older one? Maybe there is part of each in me?
The most important question of all is this: Who is the God I believe in?
Is it the prodigal father Jesus describes for us today?
Do we fail to see the sheer gratuitousness of God’s love and so fail to understand the gospel message? Do we convert the Good News of Jesus into a mere set of obligations or laws sometimes empty of moral worth because they no longer serve their original purpose?
St. Paul invites us to be ambassadors of the newness of the message of Jesus, of a God who has a feast prepared for us.Will we be ambassadors of this good news or ambassadors of a God of fear and sanctions?
“Lord Jesus, help us to accept fully the great Good News that God is exactly as you describe him in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Help us to spread this message by the way we live our lives as Christians”
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA