God loves the just but does not ignore the sinner, for whom there is always a place in his kingdom. The church is not an exclusive club. As a matter of fact, there was a friar who referred to the church as a refuge for sinners.
The Pharisees seemed to resent God’s mercy, so Jesus answered their jeers in this week’s Gospel with a series of parables. The parable of the lost sheep does not deny the goodness of the virtuous majority but makes the point that there is a special place for the repentant sinner. The lost coin is important to the careful widow, and her joy at its recovery is shared because it is deeply felt. The sum may be modest, but its sentimental value matters to her a lot. We’re all V.I.P.s in God’s eyes, especially those who are lost and later found.
But there is another side to this story: the Prodigal Son “came to his senses.” He opened his eyes to see, his ears to hear; he reached out for help and got in touch with reality. The father’s welcome was extraordinary, but it could only happen because the son came back home. We, too, need to be willing to let God embrace us as we come to our senses. God’s mercy is there for any of us who turn to him with all our hearts.
The parable of the prodigal son is a classic of narrative skill that is timelessly relevant. We need to know that a loving God awaits our return home (if you haven’t already done so, do yourself a favor and get a hold of a copy of Henri Nouwen’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son”). We also need the reminder that the same loving God expects us to forgive one another and to welcome them back again. The joy of a son’s homecoming was spoiled for the father by the sulking of the elder brother but the father was undeterred.
It’s sad that the elder brother held resentment towards both his brother and his father. God wants us all to be merciful and understanding. Leaving people helpless is no part of his plan. Though living under the same roof, the elder son was isolated from his father. Focused on his own rights and needs, he could not handle his brother’s safe return. Calling him “this son of yours” must have grieved his father. As we strive to be faithful and dutiful disciples, we need to be open to welcome home the lost ones, for we, too, have been lost at different times in our lives.
We come to church as both a refuge and home for a brief bit of respite from our hectic week. And as God welcomes us, we welcome those around us knowing that we all long for acceptance. God meets us where we are, knowing us and loving us, welcoming our return home with open arms. We are called to do likewise.
Peace and all good,