SHOWING CLEMENCY IS SHARING IN GOD’S DELIGHT
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ MICAH 7:14-15, 18-20; PS 103:1-4,9-12; LK 15:1-3; 11-32 ]
We are brought up in a culture of conditional love, of cause and effect and meritocracy. From young, we are reminded that no one owes us a living. We have to work hard to survive. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we have imbibed in this feeling that we are loved if we behave ourselves. We are punished and rejected if we do not. So we always live in fear of failure and rejection, not just by society but even by our loved ones. We try hard to please our parents and superiors to earn their love, approval and support.
Those of us who could behave in this manner, like the elder Son, are without joy or happiness. Life is a chore and a matter of fulfilling our duties and obligations. This was what the elder son in the gospel said to the father. “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.” He was a slave to the laws and the expectations of others. He was a hard man, both towards himself and towards others. He could not stand imperfections and irresponsibility because his whole life was about work and more work. It was to prove to others, especially his father, that he was acceptable.
Many of us behave like the elder son. We think that if we stop working, no one would be bothered with us. We seek attention and security, which is to feel needed and indispensable. The moment work is taken away from us we do not know what to do with our lives. We exist for work and we live for work. We constantly need to prove that we are worthy of love. We cannot accept our weaknesses. As a result, we live a double life to find acceptance. We are not ready to admit our faults and imperfections. We are always looking at the sins of others whilst overlooking our own. We are quick to find fault with those who fail in living out the Christian life but oblivious to our faults because we are blinded for fear that if we acknowledge them, we would have to change. This was what the Lord said to the Jews, quoting from the prophet Isaiah, “they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.” (Mk 4:12 cf Isa 6:9f)
Indeed, the elder son did not know that the meaning of life is not work and obligations but love and fellowship. He missed out on the aspect of celebration, fun and joy. He could not celebrate either for himself or with others. He was a wet blanket. Celebrations, for him, were a waste of precious time, which could be spent on more work and making more money. Indeed, we read that “the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing. Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about. ‘Your brother has come’ replied the servant ‘and your father has killed the calf we had fattened because he has got him back safe and sound.’ He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out to plead with him.” He remained outside the house of joy, love and fellowship. He was outside the Father’s House, which is what heaven is all about.
Of course, we can end up by being slaves to the world, addicted to pleasure and a life of debauchery and sin. Those of us who succumb to sin become slaves to sin, like the prodigal son who sought freedom. “The younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery.” This will also destroy us. We will suffer the consequences as the younger son did. “When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine, and now he began to feel the pinch, so he hired himself out to one of the local inhabitants who put him on his farm to feed the pigs. And he would willingly have filled his belly with the husks the pigs were eating but no one offered him anything.” Living an irresponsible life means reaping the consequences.
Today, the Lord wants to heal us. The psalmist says, “It is he who forgives all your guilt, who heals every one of your ills, who redeems your life from the grave, who crowns you with love and compassion.” Indeed, the Lord is not a judge or a discipline master who demands perfection in us. He knows our weaknesses and sinfulness. He knows that we are but man. He even allows us the freedom to make mistakes, as in the case of the Prodigal Son. He understands that we learn best through experience and trials. It is part of growing up. Even Jesus Himself went through that process. “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:8f)
Nevertheless, He is there watching and waiting patiently for us to return. Like the Prodigal Father, we read, “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.” When we return, He runs to us and embraces us with joy. He does not keep a record of wrongs. (cf 1 Cor 13:5) He did not bother to hear the excuses which the prodigal son had rehearsed earlier: “I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants.” He cut short his apology and instead asked that he be restored quickly to his sonship and that they must celebrate. “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we are going to have a feast, a celebration because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.”
Such is the forgiving love and mercy of God. As the psalmist says, “His wrath will come to an end; he will not be angry for ever: He does not treat us according to our sins nor repay us according to our faults. For as the heavens are high above the earth so strong is his love for those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west so far does he remove our sins?” The Prophet Micah so beautifully captures the heart of God. He said, “What god can compare with you: taking fault away, pardoning crime, not cherishing anger forever 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. Grant Jacob your faithfulness and Abraham your mercy, as you swore to our fathers from the days of long ago.”
Having received such gifts, what must we do? Our response to such magnanimous mercy of God is to praise Him. With the psalmist we say, “The Lord is compassion and love. My soul, give thanks to the Lord all my being, bless his holy name. My soul, give thanks to the Lord and never forget all his blessings.” We praise God best by extending His forgiveness to those who have offended us. Having received His mercy, we must welcome sinners as Jesus did, and receive them as well. “The father said, ‘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.'”
We must not conduct ourselves like the elder Son. We must celebrate the return of sinners and not grudge them like the self-righteous religious leaders. “The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and the scribes complained. ‘This man’ they said ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.'” Let us rejoice when every sinner returns home. Let us welcome them when they repent and not take into account their sins in the past. Like Jesus, we must also say, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (cf Lk 23:34) Some might take a long time to come to their senses like the prodigal son. We are all ignorant when we sin. But when they do, let us welcome them with joy and celebrate their return to a better life. Like the prodigal father, we do not harp on their past. To forgive means also to forget. And to forget means to rejoice that their sins and mistakes have taught them the truth about themselves and the love and mercy of God. When they return, they will come back as renewed persons who now truly know how to live and celebrate life and 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.
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