Today’s Gospel reading may be called the Gospel of the lost and found. There is the coin that was lost and found, the sheep that was lost and found and finally, the son who was lost and found. These three stories have as their essential purpose the revelation that God’s love is broader and deeper than people’s love and can forgive even when people would refuse to do so. But they don’t all say exactly the same thing.
The story of the lost sheep and the lost coin went against tradition, which never conceived of a God who went out to search for sinners. The pharisees, in fact, had a saying that “There is joy in heaven over one sinner who is obliterated before God.”
After these stories’ portrayal of God as one who actively seeks what is lost, Jesus told a glorious story of the Father who seems content to wait for a sinner to come to his senses and return home. The story of the prodigal son is one of rebellion, repentance, forgiveness, and grace. It shines light in many directions.
The father’s options with his returning son were many. But he chose forgiveness. Now, there are many ways of forgiving. It’s often done reluctantly, holding back, conveying continuing guilt to the recipient. Sometimes forgiveness is done as a favour. Worse, at times the forgiver, in a form of blackmail, implies that the other’s sin will still in some way be held over him. With this father, though, the forgiveness was total, offering to treat the son’s sins as though they had never happened. And it was joyous.
Whereas the father had interrupted the younger son’s prepared confession out of love, the elder son in turn interrupted the father’s expression of forgiveness because of small spiritedness. Part of his thinking may have been that the money for this party was partially coming out of his share of the estate! He complained about having done his duty, and he undoubtedly had – but grimly. If over time his father hadn’t heaped marks of affection upon him, it could well have been because his son’s coldness made that impossible.
The elder brother showed meanness of speech on referring to his brother as “your son” rather than as “my brother.” He alleged without evidence that the younger brother had swallowed up the father’s property with prostitutes. This kind of rash judgment in which the self-righteous often indulge. The father’s answer was heartening: “My son, everything I have is yours.”
The story of the prodigal son actually has no ending. We didn’t know whether the elder brother goes into the house to join the celebration, or whether he nurses his self-righteousness outside. There’s no ending because it’s not just a story; It’s a challenge – to each one of us. Would you go inside or stay outside?
Nothing speaks of the radical nature of Jesus’ message more than his teachings on forgiveness. Forgiveness is the final form of love, and wholehearted forgiveness is so loving that it is God-like. Those realisations should inspire each one of us to see our need for Jesus’ gift of the sacrament of reconciliation for God’s forgiveness of our sins, saying, “I will rise and go to my Father.”
And we are to imitate God’s kind of love in joyful forgiving of other people. To those who brood over injuries, it may be easier to learn a foreign language than to say, “I am sorry”, or “I forgive you” in our own language.
Remember though, to pray for the grace to forgive. Even when we don’t feel like forgiving. The very fact that we sincerely want to forgive means we have actually forgiven the person in our heart. Good feelings will follow, though not necessarily right away.
St. Augustine gave the advice: “Do what you can do and pray for what you cannot do.”
Forgiveness is humankind’s deepest need and highest achievement, lets look into the concealed places where lost people tend to hide and contribute to the healing forgiveness that we and our world so greatly crave.