March 29, 2019

Christ the Cornerstone

Story of prodigal son reminds us God always forgives

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them’ ” (Lk 15:1-2).

On the Fourth Sunday of Lent, the Church proclaims the astonishing news that God always forgives. The familiar parable of “The Prodigal Son” (Lk 15:11-32) is about a father’s willingness to forgive sons who have sinned against him—one by squandering his inheritance, and the other by being angry and resentful that he had to stay home and work while his brother was away “sowing wild oats.”

During the season of Lent, we acknowledge that we are a sinful people, and that our imperfections hurt us and others in ways that can be very damaging.

As sinners, we usually hurt the people who are closest to us—our parents, spouses and children, friends and co-workers. We make promises that we don’t keep. We often take advantage of others’ generosity, and we abuse their trust.

Only when we’ve sunk as low as any human being can possibly go and we’re desperate, do we cry out for help: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am not worthy to be called your son or daughter.” How does our heavenly Father respond? By rejoicing! By celebrating the fact that we were lost and are now found; we were dead and have now been returned to life! This is the prodigal love of God, the endless mercy and forgiveness that are available to us through the power of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection.

We do not need to be stuck in our sins. The cross of Christ has redeemed us. Our sins have been forgiven, and we have been set free. Let us rejoice. We’re not perfect, but we are forgiven.

Our God is a forgiving God who is slow to anger and rich in mercy. This is one of the primary reasons why we will rejoice during the Easter celebration. Our experience of Lent and the coming Paschal Triduum focus our attention on the power and immensity of God’s love for us. We are keenly aware of the lengths to which our loving God is willing to go to redeem us from our selfishness and sin.

St. Luke’s story of the prodigal son—really the story of two brothers and their generous and loving father—has captured the imagination of many great artists and writers during the past 2,000 years. It is a story of love and forgiveness that can’t fail to inspire us. We can all identify with the two brothers. At times, we’re like the younger brother who wastes his inheritance on loose living and sins of the flesh. At other times, we can feel the older brother’s pain and resentment: “Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf” (Lk 15: 29-30)!

The father’s response speaks directly to our hardened hearts: “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found” (Lk 15:31–32).

There is no greater joy than the joy that flows from the experience of forgiving love. (The Hebrew word for “forgiving love” is hesed, which means the boundless loving mercy of God.) This is what the father feels when his long-lost son returns. It is surely what the son who was lost feels when his father greets him with such overwhelming love and mercy. And it is what the older son is invited and challenged to feel if he can overcome his anger and resentment and learn to share his father’s joy.

God’s forgiving love doesn’t erase the effects of our sins, which can be quite serious. Even the younger son’s behavior had consequences that could not be totally erased. Amends have to be made and, in some cases, punishment for crimes must be administered.

During this Lenten season, we too are invited and challenged to experience the joy of God’s love and forgiveness. Yes, we are sinners—imperfect people who hurt ourselves and others. Yes, we too often waste the gifts that God has given us, and we can be resentful and angry when in truth we should be profoundly grateful for all that God has given us.

We are not perfect, but we are forgiven. Let’s thank God for his boundless mercy. Let’s rejoice and be glad this Lent because God always forgives. †

Local site Links: