The Restorative Mercy of God. LUKE 15:1–3, 11–32
This fourth Sunday of Lent for cycle C, we are given the popular parable of the Prodigal Son or as some call it, the Prodigal Father. Jesus gave this parable in response to the disapproval from the Pharisees and scribes concerning Jesus’ acceptance of those considered public sinners (tax collectors and others), in order to give a glimpse of how the mercy of God operates.
The story is about a father with two sons. It is understood that the father had done his duty by the standards of the Jewish community. He had worked to provide a future for his children; he had established a good life not only for himself but for those whom he loved. Yet, it would seem that neither of his children fully understood or appreciated the depth of their father’s love.
The younger son requests his share of a future inheritance, ostensibly to pursue what he believes holds what his heart really longs for—newness, excitement, a sense of belonging, persons to love and to be loved by.
His request of course, is the greatest insult and disrespect to his father who has sacrificed for him out of love; he literally asks for that which should properly come to him after the death of his father.
He is basically saying to his father, “You are already dead to me so now I can begin to really live”. This is why the scribes and Pharisees have a problem. They understood that this is intolerable behaviour which literally cuts the person from grace and thus life. Such a person is lost and has only himself to blame.
Eventually the younger son comes to this same conclusion, but he has to experience famine, abandonment by fickle friends, and compromised dignity before he can say “I will return and say to my father, I have sinned against heaven and against you”.
Yet Jesus reminds us that the mercy of God longingly awaits His beloved children to come to their senses. He meets us on the way back; He looks beyond the grime that masks our resemblance to Him; He ignores what we squandered. His merciful response restores us to Him and we are once more embraced as sons and daughters, for it is the very nature of God to be a father to His children.
It is easy for us to identify others who are impulsive and rude like the younger son—persons who squander the opportunities freely provided by their parents, persons who seem to chase after thrills and excitement in life, not noticing those around them who truly care for them. But, if we are mature and honest enough to admit it, we can often identify ourselves with this younger son.
And what of the older son who, we are told, takes personally the hurt caused by the scandalous behaviour of his brother to the point of not wanting to see him again? To him the father says, “Your brother was dead and has come back to life, was lost and is now found”.
In other words, does this not move your heart with joy? Does this not move you to the depth of your being? Can you not recognise the restoration of what really matters, the family which we started with, the only important thing?
Many may identify with this older son who dutifully stayed. But we realise that although he never physically left, he had also made his own journey away from his father. Not understanding the depth of his father’s love for him, he had not yet learned to recognise that life, meaning and love had always existed in the bond shared with his father and his brother and that the inheritance belonged to him as well.
God’s mercy calls out to us in a special way during this Lenten season. It speaks to us wherever we are in our journey. It calls out to us to return, repent and be fully restored as sons and daughters. It pleads to us to live as brothers and sisters sharing in the restorative mercy of our Father.
Will we learn to share the heart of the Father moved by restorative love?
Oh God and Father of us all,
Touch our hearts to be like Yours.
Help us by Your grace to get up from whatever
distorts our resemblance to You who are mercy and love
and make us instruments that share Your mercy to all.
The Gospel Meditations for March were by Fr Roger Paponette, Judicial Vicar and parish priest of San Rafael.
By Fr Roger Paponette