Sunday, March 10, 2013

Day 26: Undeserved Forgiveness

because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began.” (Luke 15:24)

Every time I have to preach on this gospel, I spend my entire week staring at Rembrandt’s painting that hangs in my office and flipping through my copy of Henri Nouwen’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” I have preached retreats, missions, and workshops on this parable. I have read the book at least four times and read the parable countless times, yet I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what Jesus want to teach us through this parable. This morning I read a tweet from the Jesuit father James Martin that read: “With the Prodigal Son story Jesus tells us that God is merciful and forgiving even if we don’t deserve it—especially when we don’t [deserve it].” I remember hearing this parable as a kid and being troubled at how grossly unfair it was. Why would the father forgive the prodigal son? I was a kid that still had not come to grasp with the true concept of God’s mercy or because I hadn’t needed God’s mercy in the same way this young man did. As adults, we all empathize with the prodigal son because at one point or another in our lives we’ve been a desperate situation that has required God’s“no questions asked” mercy. 

Yet, even knowing how magnificent our God’s love and mercy are, we still leave home and set off for distant countries and forget our forgiving Father. Father Nouwen writes: “Leaving home is…a denial of the spiritual reality that I belong to God with every part of my being, that God holds me safe in an eternal embrace, that I am indeed carved in the palms of God’s hands and hidden in their shadows.” WE BELONG TO GOD! We so easily forget that and go looking for pleasures and happiness far from our spiritual home. Sometimes we need to hit rock bottom like the prodigal son to realize that we are a child of the Father, that we belong to him, and that, no matter how far we have travelled into the world of sin, we always have a home to return to. Did the prodigal son deserve forgiveness? Of course not! But nobody bothered to ask the forgiving father who RAN to his son, embraced his son, kissed his son, clothed his son with the dignity of being one of his children and ordered a celebration FOR his son. In the eyes of the world this kid should have been treated as his older brother wanted him to be treated, but the eyes of this father only saw his lost son returning home. Who cares what he had done? Who cares what happened to the inheritance? Who cares why he came back? Only one thing mattered to the father: his son was home!

Nouwen continues: “I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found. Why do I keep ignoring the place of true love and persist in looking for it elsewhere? Why do I keep leaving home where I am called a child of God, the Beloved of my Father?” And the thing is that we allow the voices of the world to lure us away from our true home and into sin over and over again. We forget that voice of the Father that says to us as he said to Jesus: “You are my beloved Son upon whom my favor rests.” Lent is a time to rediscover that voice, to remember that we have a Father whose love and mercy knows no ends. We must become the prodigal son and present ourselves to our Father who will come running to embrace us and to restore us to the dignity of the children of God. In today’s gospel, Christ reveals to us the face of this merciful father and invites us to be recreated and to return to being God’s children. As St. Paul says in the second reading, “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation, the old things have passed away, behold, new things come.(2 Cor 5:17).” The prodigal son was recreated and the elder son was invited to participate in this new creation. Old things have passed and new things are promised. A celebration is guaranteed! May we leave that distant country where sin persists behind and return home this Lent. May we shut out the voices of the world and listen only to that one loving voice that reminds us over and over again, “You are my beloved son upon whom my favor rests.”