The Father’s Mercy begins long before the return of the prodigal!
By now, virtually all of us have heard a generous portion of homilies and other reflections on the Prodigal Son parable of Luke’s gospel that is proclaimed on the Fourth Sunday of Lent in Cycle C of the Sunday Lectionary (those who worship at the Mass will hear an alternate gospel—the healing of the man born blind). I will not presume necessarily to add any groundbreaking insights; however, I have been reminded that the posture of mercy adapted by the father figure well proceeds the moment of the son’s coming home.
Jesus sets up the parable to begin with the younger son asking for his share of the family inheritance. Given the value placed on honoring father and mother in the culture of the day, it would have been completely acceptable—perhaps even admired by other members of the community— for the father then and there publicly to disown the son and likely apply a physical reprimand (a slap across the cheek) in answer to such an insulting request (”give me my share of the inheritance…”).
Instead , the father proceeds to meet the demand, without comment. We could say that he chooses to face ridicule and the accusation of lacking backbone rather than sever, from his side, the bond of familial love. That is why it is said, at times, that the father, too, is prodigal—extravagant. I believe we can say that as the embodiment of the love of our heavenly Father, Jesus chooses to take upon himself ridicule, insult and abuse rather than disown us as his beloved brothers and sisters. How rich in mercy is our God!
By the time the son “comes to his senses,” some of us might be thinking he had “burned too many bridges.” Jesus makes it clear that the story does not end there. He returns home to the father and is fully restored as a member of the family. Meanwhile, the elder son is caught up in the mentality that his being obedient in carrying out his duty is sufficient. However, that alone is not a real relationship. The father desires more, and so he also reaches out to that son.
Where are you when it comes to the sacrament of mercy— Confession? Have you come to believe it is ineffective— that there is too much repetition of sin in your life for the grace to work? That’s the Enemy! We cannot afford to buy into this lie.
Or are you a bit like the elder son? Have you exempted yourself from needing the sacrament because you feel you’re “good enough and a lot less sinful than others?” Again, that’s the Enemy trying to deceive us.
Take God and the Church at their word as to the restorative power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation this Lent. Place yourself, with the wayward son or the self-satisfied son of the parable, in the loving embrace of the Father.