Readings: Joshua 5: 9A, 10-12; Psalm 34, Response: Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.; 2 Corinthians 5: 17-21; Luke 5: 1-3, 11-32
Back in college almost 40 years ago, the parable in today’s Gospel was called the Parable of the Merciful Father. Let us reflect from this perspective, the Merciful Father, the forgiving, healing love of God.
There are three facets to reflect on. First is the love that gives the son the freedom to make his own decisions in life; second, the love that forgives; and third, the love that is inclusive and brings people to a communion in love.
In all these, love is best expressed through presence, which becomes the ground for love to be, in the words of Ignatius, “best expressed in deeds.” One cannot love in deeds if one is not present to the beloved, and vice versa.
In the parable, the younger son decides to get his inheritance, pack up, and go. The father poses no objection. This “simple act” of the father speaks volumes about his love for his son.
This love that gives the freedom to choose presupposes another core value, respect as a fundamental building block. The respect honors the beloved’s ability to take responsibility with choices made, and the decision to act from these choices.
It is normal to overprotect the young among us. Parents “freeze” their children at the age they most cherish or find less complicated. But the love that gives freedom is counterintuitive to this.
This love gives the freedom to explore, take risks and consequently be exposed to failure. The father did not wish his younger son ill, but he respected his freedom with the faith and hope that he will grow and become a better person. It was, in fact, the son’s failure that spurred this transformation and growth.
“Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.’’” (Luke 15: 17-19)
The love that gives freedom pays off! And this sets the stage for the love that forgives. This forgiving love of the father sets him apart. All along he waits for his son to return and “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” (Luke 15: 20)
In his forgiveness, the father meets us where we are. In our failure, in our brokenness and shame, he comes to us and restores us to our dignity that was ours from the beginning. The way to the Father’s forgiveness is to go back home: repentance, the metanoia, breaking down and reintegrating.
The forgiveness comes from the crisis, the breakdown and the synthesis—a new and better reintegration. It is the pattern of dying and coming to life that is inherent in the patterns of nature, and elevated to the definitive cycle of dying and coming to life in the Cross and Resurrection—the singular moment in human history that heals, reintegrates into a new and better wholeness.
As one theologian put it, in the Cross and Resurrection, our sins—past, present and future—are forgiven. The power of the Father’s forgiving love is the power of the love of the Cross and Resurrection.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth … He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new … I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.’” (Revelation 21: 1,5-6) In God’s forgiveness is the renewal of all things for those who choose to “go home.”
This home welcomes all, and the Father displays this in his going out once more to his jealous son who “became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him.” (Luke 15: 28) Then self-righteousness and impure motivation of the elder son are unmasked.
Yet the Father displays his inclusiveness: “Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15: 31-32)
The Parable of the Merciful Father speaks to us of God’s love. It is not an abstract love but a love expressed in deeds. It is an active love because it is always present in all movements, through all the twists and turns of our life, meeting us where we are and leading us home to him who is Perfect Love. —CONTRIBUTED