COMPASSION IN FORGIVENESS TOWARDS OTHERS SPRINGS FROM OUR ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF OUR SINFULNESS AND THE RECEPTION OF GOD’S MERCY
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ MIC 7:14-15, 18-20; PS 102:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12; LK 15:1-3; 11-32 ]
Why are we lacking in compassion for others? Why are we often lacking in fidelity to God? There is only one fundamental reason, the failure to grasp the height, depth, length and breadth of God’s merciful love for us. How can we render mercy and forgiveness to others if we ourselves have not experienced His love and forgiveness?
The capacity for mercy and forgiveness presupposes we know God’s mercy. This is what the first reading and the psalm wants to proclaim. If only we know from our heart the unimaginable patience, long suffering love of God and His forgiving love, no matter what our sins are, we would be grateful to Him for all eternity. Yes, the prophet exclaimed, “What god can compare with you: taking fault away, pardoning crime, not cherishing anger for ever but delighting in showing mercy? Once more have pity on us, tread down our faults, to the bottom of the sea throw all our sins.” If only we believe what the prophet said regarding our sins being cast to the bottom of the sea, then we will have no fear of God’s judgment. But deep in our hearts, even though our doctrines proclaim God’s justice is His mercy, yet we do not really believe that He will forgive us for our faults and failings. On the contrary, we think He wants to take revenge on us. We find it impossible that God can forgive us just like that, and not remember our sins anymore!
If we have great difficulty in accepting the Father’s mercy for us, it is because we are just like the two sons in today’s gospel. Whether we have the attitude of the younger or elder son, the bottom line is that both do not know the Father’s mercy and never really believed, like us, that God is all mercy and forgiving. The great parable of today’s gospel of the Prodigal son, sometimes also rendered as the Prodigal father, speaks much about the Father’s love.
What, then, is the obstacle in coming to faith in God’s merciful love? It is the failure to recognize our sinfulness. The younger son left home in defiance of his father’s wish. He was totally irresponsible and ungrateful for all that his father did for him. Worse still, he squandered away all the hard earned money given to him by his father. The elder son’s attitude to the father was certainly no better than that of the younger son. The latter might have sinned by disobedience and selfishness, but the former sinned by his self-righteousness. Even when the father tried to placate him, he was adamant about his stand with regard to “this son of yours”, a denial of any relationship whatsoever to his younger brother and implicitly his rejection of his father as well.
If both have sinned against the father, it was the sin of losing their identity, which is to be the sons of the father. For what is sin, if not the loss of our identity as God’s children? In different ways, both have rejected their father. The younger son demanded for his share of the will, as if the father were dead, and left him to live with the pagans in a faraway land. The elder son sinned no less when he regarded himself as a slave of the father, and in his anger, expressed the sentiments of his heart: “Look, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends.”
Yet, the truth remains that none of us is ever excluded from the Father’s unconditional and faithful love. Even though we might forget him, He will never forget that we are His children. He will always remain our Father, even when we have forgotten our sonship or daughtership. He will always be our shepherd, even if we have become stray sheep. As the prophet says, “With shepherd’s crook, O Lord, lead your people to pasture, the flock that is your heritage, living confined in a forest with meadow land all around.”
Truly, God is lavish in His love for us. This is the reason for us to re-title the story of the Prodigal Son as the story of the Prodigal Father – ‘prodigal’ for the fact that this word underscores the sentiments of extravagance, lavishness and abundance. When applied to the father, it describes his wasteful love for his son because none of us would ever love the way the father loves his two sons. He even waited for his younger son to return home one day, for he was always on the look out for him. The parable implies this when it says, “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly.” Upon his return, the father, without any need of explanation from his younger son, restored him to his position of sonship. With the elder son, it was as if the father was in his debt, for he pleaded with him humbly to go into the house to celebrate: “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he has lost and is found.”
Yes, if we can identify with the sons in today’s parable and enter into the heart of the father, then we would be so confident of the Father’s mercy and love. We will then be able to pray with the psalmist from the depth of our being, saying, “The Lord is kind and merciful. He pardons all your iniquities; he heals all your ills. He will not always chide, nor does he keep his wrath forever. Not according to our sins does he deal with us, nor does he requite us according to our crimes.”
So today, let us beg the Lord for this grace to open our hearts to His mercy and love, never doubting that God will forgive us, and not keep a record of all our misdeeds. Nay, the psalmist declares, “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us.” Let us also pray with the prophet saying, “Let them pasture in Bashan and Gilead as in the days when you came out of Egypt grant us to see wonders.” Yes, let us tell the Lord once again, “Grant Jacob your faithfulness, and Abraham your mercy, as you swore to our fathers from the days of long ago.”
Arising from this awareness and recovery of our sonship and therefore His fatherhood, we will be able to respond with fidelity to His love. This fidelity will then be expressed in our identification with our fellowmen in compassion and love, because we have come to realize our sinful nature and at the same time, His healing and forgiving love.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online, nor will they be available via email requests.