“You, the God who removes guilt and
pardons sin…delights in clemency. (Mi 7:18)
Reconciliation is the big theme for today. Reconciliation requires two separate actions from two separate people; the one reconciling and the one being reconciled, i.e. the one forgiving and the one being forgiven. Reconciliation is the key to all relationships, because all of us miss the mark at times.
Today’s Gospel is the classical story of the Prodigal Son. Nearly everyone who wrestles seriously with these verses ends up with a sense of awe at its inexhaustible content. My reading of it today prompted me to think of the “prodigal” father. He is so extravagant, reckless and lavish with his love for his sons. He is the icon of reconciliation.
First, he divides his property between his sons at the request of the younger son. Traditionally, in the Middle Eastern culture this is not done until one is on your deathbed. This father ignores the implied “wish you were dead” insinuation of this request and willingly lavishes his sons with their inheritance while he is still alive.
Second, the father is watching for the younger son’s return, when reality would suggest that he is dead, if not physically, at least emotionally and spiritually. When the father sees his son, he drops all social protocol and runs out and embraces him and kisses him. He receives his son with total acceptance and restores his son to the honor he had before he left.
The public display of love in his embrace and kiss assumes equality with his son, once again not part of Middle Eastern culture and is a great sign of humility on the part of the father. He orders the servants to wait on his son and dress him as royalty. Killing the fatted calf rather than a smaller animal, such as a goat or a sheep, means that the father plans on inviting the entire community to the celebration. The Prodigal Father is reckless and lavish with a deep abiding love for his son. And offers his son unconditional reconciliation and full restoration of their relationship very publicly so the whole community, even the servants will be reconciled to this young man.
The young man accepts. Note that he abbreviates the speech he had prepared. He still asks for forgiveness from God and his father, but he stops short of asking to be hired as a worker. He accepts his father’s offer of reconciliation and is restored to full son ship.
Jesus ends the story before we hear whether the older son accepts his father’s request for reconciliation or not. Is that to prompt his listeners, including us, to reflect on how we give and receive forgiveness? How we respond to prodigal love? How we respond to another’s request for reconciliation? Can we accept the forgiveness of others with gratitude?
Lord help us to give and receive forgiveness that we
may be united in the common pledge of conversion. Help us to overcome
divisions among all people so that we may become one in perfect communion
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