This Lent, I am reading “Becoming Instruments of God’s Peace,” daily reflections on St. Francis’ peace prayer. Last week focused on the line, “Where there is injury, pardon.” I found myself restless with the readings. Sure, I have been wounded in serious ways throughout my life, but now I live geographically and emotionally at a distance from those wounds. They still hurt if I poke at them or something today feels similar. So I just try not to poke at them. There is not much I can do about them. Then there are the injustices perpetrated by political and religious leaders over which I have little power. Finally, there are my own sinful habits, which do not seem to be going anywhere. What can I really do about any of it? Do you also have these unresolved areas to which you must—it seems—be resigned?
Each Sunday of Lent, the Church presents us with a different facet of the journey toward God. This week it is reconciliation and homecoming. Both words are needed to describe this facet. If we just talk about reconciliation, we may get stuck in judicial reckoning and sidestep God’s tidal wave of mercy. If we just talk about homecoming, we may miss the commissioning that comes with being part of God’s household, to wash others in that tidal wave of mercy.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son attracts me in two ways. First, the really prodigal character is the father. Prodigal has negative connotations of recklessness and wasteful extravagance. It is unreasonable. When we have experienced similar insults within our families, we negotiate the homecoming. It would be crazy not to, right? We want to make it clear that we were right and they were wrong and that we have been hurt. We want recompense. We want a guarantee that it will not happen again. Not the father in this story. All he needs is for the son to acknowledge that he has sinned. After all, what can we really do to remove the hurt we have caused or guarantee that we will not sin again? Walter Brueggemann preached, “To forgive is to break the vicious cycles of death by a fresh act of utter generosity.” Jesus tells us that God is ready to be so generous: “While [the son] was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.” God longs to unleash a tidal wave of mercy.
The second thing that attracts me to this parable is that it is a tale of two sons. Each of us is both of these sons. Each of us has sins we must acknowledge so that we can be reconciled with God. Perhaps our sins are not so glaring as leaving family and God behind to spend the family resources on a life of dissipation. Yet, each of us willfully chooses actions and thoughts that are not in line with God’s love. Whatever our sins are, they must be claimed as our own, for only in doing so can change come about.
Likewise, each of us is the elder son, “here with [the father] always; everything [the father] has is [ours].” We are righteous and from that righteousness, we want a justice that rewards our good behavior and punishes the sins of others. We get so lost in our sense of justice that we fail to see what is really at stake, the life of another human being. So the father gently challenges his elder son. He invites him into his “fresh act of utter generosity.”
This is what St. Paul talks about in the reading from 2 Corinthians. He reminds us that we have been made new in our reconciliation to God through Christ. In the same breath, Paul notes twice that we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. “We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us.” We are called to be watching for the slightest indication of remorse in others and to run and embrace them. As God does not get caught up in repayment plans and terms of surrender, so too you and I. In the same homily I quoted above, Walter Brueggemann wrote, “The good news is not just that God forgives, but that God has created a people to have as its main, single business in the world the forgiveness of sins, the cancellation of debts, the breaking of the power of fear and hate and death in order to start again.”
As my friend Deacon Ed Kelly is fond of noting, the Parable of the Prodigal Son does not tell us if the elder son enters the party. Jesus leaves the choice with us.
- What sins do you need to acknowledge so that God can come running to meet you and bring you home?
- As an ambassador of reconciliation, where can you offer a fresh act of utter generosity?