The Good News for the Day, September 11, 2022
The Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (120) (shorter version)
Because greedy financiers and streetwalkers were attracted to Jesus, religious elite Pharisees their scribes started criticizing him: “This man is welcoming no-good people! He even eats with them.”
To them Jesus addressed this story. “A man once upon a time had two sons. The younger son said to his dad, ‘Father, give me the portion of your estate that will be coming to me.’ The father then did divide his wealth between the two of them. After a few days, that younger son packed all his stuff, and went away to a distant country.
The Wayward, Spendthrift Son
There he squandered his inheritance on a self-indulgent life. He spent everything recklessly when a terrible famine struck that area. The young man found himself in dire straits. He hired himself out to a local citizen who sent him out to his farm to take care of pigs. He was hungry enough eat the slop the pigs were eating, but nobody game anything to him.
Looking at the whole picture, he thought, ‘So many of my father’s employees have more than enough food to eat! Here I am dying from hunger! I am going to get up. I will go back home to my dad. I am going to admit: “Father, I have done wrong to heaven and you. I don’t deserve to be called your son. Treat me like you would just one of your employees.”‘
So—he did just that – he got up and headed home to his father. He was still some ways off, his father saw him! The father felt great compassion. He ran out to his son, hugged and kissed him. His son said, ‘Father, I have done wrong to heaven and you.; I don’t deserve to be called your son.’
His Father’s Response
But his father gave orders: ‘Quick! Bring out our best clothing and put them on him. Put a ring on his finger, good shoes on his feet. Put the best meat on the table. Let’s party! This son of mine was dead! He has come back to life! Lost, he’s been found!’
Then the celebration began.
The Brothers Response
The older son, meanwhile, had been out working in the field. It was on his way back towards the house. The nearer he got, the more he could hear the music and the dancing. He called one of the employees to ask what was going on. The waiter told him, ‘Your brother has come home! Your father has prepared a big party. He has him back safe and sound.’ This son got mad. When the son refused to come into the house, his father came out and begged him to join them. He replied to his father, ‘Look, all these years I have been doing what is right working for you; not once you have the smallest party for me to celebrate with my friends. Then this son of yours returns after a loose life with women! You kill the best calf for him’
The Father’s Response to the Brother
‘My son,’ his father answered him, ‘you are always with me and I have shared everything with you! We had to party and be especially happy for this occasion. This brother of yours has been dead. He has come back to life. Once lost all, now he is found.‘”(Luke 15)
Reflections of the Word of Jesus
God is not fair. He forgives; He has compassion. God searches for the lost sheep and looks all over for a lost coin.
Sometimes, it takes a major shift of our understanding of God to grasp who God really is. So many modern Christians have made God into a picture, a picture of an old man in the sky. That image as an image and no more underlies many an adult version of God. It is valid for children but not for mature human beings. Children can love a picture of their mother, but adults love real persons.
Even to realize God is a person is only a starting point. That understanding is no more than a handshake with a stranger. In this story, the father is often compared to the forgiving God – but that is such a small part of the point.
Read the story again and you see the many character traits of a real person. Like King Lear he demonstrates the mistake of sharing a pre-dead inheritance. Realizing his mistake, his heart now aches to see his son again. As in parables just prior to this one in Luke’s gospel (the lost coin & sheep) , Dad keeps on lookout, aware that he screwed up. It is a practical guilt, not simply a feeling of guilt. He really loves his children.
This love is positive and embracing, not judgmental and exclusive. In other words, it is real love, respectful, selfless, and humble. His humility acknowledges that his earlier generous love was a mistake, but that he is deeper than his human mistakes
The Importance Here
You and I are called to be God-like. Not to imitate this fictional father, but to be ourselves the kind of persons who loves people, the way God is. The more tortured, depressed, and troubled a person is, the more you and I see them with affection and concern.
In this “trailer” for the movie of a life, Jesus shows us the whole picture. He shows us how to act both by what Jesus does and by a story like this. The worthiness or unworthiness of sinners, however, is irrelevant. Jesus loves, like His Father, unconditionally. God reaches out. And our Father waits for us, too—with motherly love.
In every which way both Jesus and our Creator initiate this love for lost creatures. Followers of Jesus continue the process they have started. We just keep on going, reaching out, waiting, perhaps, more often than reaching out.