Sunday, March 6, 2016

God never tires of forgiving!


A teacher explained to her CCD class the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and then she asked, "Now tell me: Who do you think suffered the most in this story?" A child raised her hand and answered plainly, "the fatted cow."

Charles Dickens was known to say that the story of the Prodigal Son is the best short story ever written. It is such an important story in our culture that some of the phrases from it have become common and even proverbial in our language – phrases like the Prodigal Son, or the “fatted calf” or “he was lost and has been found.” We hear these words regularly in our daily life and they take on a whole new level of meaning.

This is a story that has enriched the vocabulary of the world. It has also changed the way the world looks at things. No story tells us more about God or makes us feel better about ourselves in God’s sight. It is a brief tale with tremendous scope, so wide that it embraces all of our sinfulness at one end and God’s tremendous and endless mercy at the other. And it does so in such a way to bring them both together.

Jesus shares this story in response to his regular adversaries in the Gospels – the Pharisees and Scribes. They are again upset with the people He keeps company with. “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them,” is their accusation. And Jesus gives them this story in the hopes that they will understand completely – once and for all – His nature and the welcoming and merciful nature of God. And to those who thought that the Law of God was something God gave us so that we can create a world of those who are “in” and who are “out”; as a way of excluding many, too many, from God’s love, Jesus gives this wake-up call – God’s love is for everyone; God’s forgiveness has no limits; Jesus has come so that all people might know – all people, whether the greatest saint or the worst sinner – that all people might know that they are welcomed, loved and forgiven in the Kingdom He came to inaugurate.

“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them,” is the accusation that Jesus turns into a motto; a way of life; and it should describe us as well. And, I think, this message of the Prodigal Son is one that we need to hear over and over and over again. For some reason, our world seems to tend toward Phariseeism. The name “Pharisee” by the way means literally “the separated ones.” And, this tendency to separate people into categories of who is in and who is out persists. We are called to reject that.

God, of course, never asked us to be in the business of judgment or exclusion. Pope Francis said it more succinctly when he famously said, “Who am I to judge?” It was a powerful statement and reminder from the Holy Father, but it is one that should come from each one of us too. Who are we to judge? There is only one judge; and it is not us – it is God, the true and only judge we will face. And, our story today reminds us that the one true judge is abundantly forgiving and merciful.

But, who are we to love? Who are we to show compassion? Who are we to forgive and show mercy? Who are we to reach out to the needy, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, the refugee, the immigrant? These are our common call; these are our mission statement. Jesus is very explicit about these things. This is what He asks us to do – to love, to be His loving, kind, compassionate, merciful and forgiving presence in our world. So, how are we doing with that?

Let us remember that no sin of ours is ever too great to be forgiven. God never tires of forgiving us. And let it be said of us that we too “welcome sinners and eat with them.”

Today, let us “come to our senses”. Today let us reject the voices in our world that want to exclude people; let us reject the voices that seek to judge others; and let us return once again to our loving and forgiving Father. Let us run into the embrace of His welcoming arms. And let us go forth sharing that same love with the world.

“Now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”

May the Lord give you peace.

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