Human experiences teach us:
- That the people who hurt us often and hurt us the most are people who are so close to us. That is why there is a song entitled, “Why do we always hurt the one we love?”
- That the people we find the hardest to forgive are also people who are so close to us. People as such we call them traitors and ungrateful. It has been said that one’s best friends is one’s worst enemies.
- That the people who are deeply hurt or aggrieved have the tendency to self-pity, anger, hatred, resentment and revenge. Given all these, it is hard to forgive, much harder, to forgive constantly. Indeed Alexander Pope is correct when he said, “To err is human, to forgive is divine.”
If your heart is filled with anger, hatred and revenge and you find it hard to forgive those who hurt or offended you, then, the message of today’s Gospel is for you: love the repentant sinner by forgiving him while hate the sin; hope for repentance of sinner and celebrate the redemption of even one sinner.
Going back to the parable we just heard, the younger son’s request was impudent and disrespectful. Typically, sons received their inheritance on the death of their father. Sometimes a father might decide to distribute part or all of the inheritance early so that he might retire, but the initiative is the father’s—not the son’s. In the event that a son received his inheritance prior to the father’s death, the son was expected to stay at home to provide for his parents in their old age. That was part of what it meant to “honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Exod 20:12).
This younger son was guilty of: (1) assuming the initiative that belonged to his father (2) treating his father as if he were dead (3) ignoring his obligation to his parents in their old age and (4) breaking the family relationship by leaving. Such conduct was shameful in that culture. A father would feel ashamed to have raised such a son. Neighbors would raise their eyebrows and thank God not to have such sons themselves.
Despite of what had happened the father has forgiven his repentant impudent and disrespectful son who deeply offended and hurt him. The father in the parable represents God the Father who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment” (Jl 2:12-13) while the prodigal son represents the worst sinner who returns to the Father with contrite and humble spirit. Just as God the Father has forgiven us in Christ when were sinners and when we were still His enemies let us also forgive those who has hurt and offended us.
Why do we need to forgive?
- “The only way to peace is forgiveness. To accept and give forgiveness makes possible a new quality of rapport between men, interrupts the spiral of hatred and revenge and breaks the chains of evil which bind the heart of rivals” (Pope John Paul II, Homily at Mass for First Sunday of Lent, “Day of Pardon”, March 12, 2000 and Angelus Message, March 12, 2000).
- “Forgiveness saves the expense of anger, the high cost of hatred, and the waste of energy” (E. C. McKenzie).
- Forgiveness of one another is a condition for authentic worship of the Father. “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt. 5:23-24; cf. 6:14-15; Mk 11:25; CCC 2841; cf. CFC 2187).
- Man must forgive in order to be forgiven by God. The parable is a comment upon the fifth petition of the Lord’s prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us” (Mt 6:12). Those, and those only, may expect to be forgiven of God, who forgive their brethren “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will you Father forgive your trespasses” (Mt 6:14, 15). As James had it, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13).
“Because you are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as God has forgiven you in Christ” (Col 3:12f). Forgive and “so be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect ” (Mt 5: 44-48).
He ran to his son
When the son returns home, the father runs to meet him. Older men in the Middle East do not run except in emergency; running causes dishonor. But the father does this, not so much to welcome the son as to protect him from hostile villagers who resent his break from family and community and his loss of inheritance to non-Israelites. By meeting the errant son at the edge of the village, and by embracing and kissing him, he puts the son under his protection, safe from the immediate danger of a hostile community. Moreover, the robe, the ring, and the sandals are signs that the son is taken back as a member of the household rather than as a servant.
The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) is perhaps better named the parable of the lost son, since it is designed to go with the parables of the lost sheep (verses 3-7) and lost coin (verses 8-10). Some have even called it the parable of the prodigal father, because of the father’s extravagance. Even today, after centuries of teaching about God’s grace, the father’s willingness to forgive his runaway son is shockingly generous.
What this parable teaches us about God
The context helps us understand the lessons of the parable. Verses 1-2 tell us that sinners and tax collectors were being taught by Jesus. Pharisees then criticized Jesus — not for teaching them, but for eating with them, which was a sign of social acceptance. The Pharisees tried hard to be righteous, and they were disturbed that Jesus accepted people who hadn’t been trying hard. Perhaps they were worried that Jesus was making it too easy on people, and his acceptance might encourage others to be lazy.
Jesus then gave the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, both illustrating the point that God rejoices about each sinner who repents. “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (verse 7). There’s no such thing as a person who has no need for repentance, but the Pharisees weren’t yet aware of that. There would be rejoicing for them, too, if they would accept it.
The parable of the lost son continues the theme of rejoicing and adds to it. The first half of the parable illustrates rejoicing over a sinner who returned; the second half more directly addresses the situation Jesus faced: criticism about his willingness to be with sinners. Jesus, by telling the parable the way he did, chides those who do not rejoice about the sinners’ interest in being taught (figuratively, returning to God).
In the first two parables, the lost were found by searching. But the younger son was found by waiting. The spiritually lost were already coming to Jesus; he didn’t need to seek them out. They had been spiritually dead and were now showing interest — they wanted to be taught by Jesus. Jesus received them and ate with them. His reception would have encouraged them to keep the laws they already knew and to continue to listen to him for more instruction in God’s way.
But the parable is not just about Jesus in the first century; it is a timeless message about God the Father. He rejoices over (cf. the celebration) and honors (cf. the robe, ring and sandals) every sinner who repents. He doesn’t wait for a full and formal apology; he perceives the attitude and comes toward us. This theme of joyful acceptance, similar to that of the first two parables of this chapter, dominates the first part of this parable. This is the lesson illustrated by the father: He is always ready to welcome a returning child.
The parable shows that sinners can confess and return to God. Since God is gracious, sinners can return to him with confidence that he will warmly welcome them. But in the parable, financial destitution is more prominent than moral fault. Unlike the first two parables, the word repent is not used; only superficial reasons are given for the son’s return. As Jesus spoke to the Pharisees, encouraging sinners to return was not the main issue; the main issue was what to do about sinners who were already willing to return.
Most importantly, the parable shows that God’s people should rejoice at a) the willingness of sinners to turn to God and b) the willingness of God to receive them. This is the lesson of the second half of the parable, illustrated by the father’s correction of his older son. This theme most directly addresses the setting of the parable, the Pharisees’ criticism of Jesus’ reception of sinners. The parables of the lost sheep and lost coin and the first half of the parable of the lost son are preparatory to this main point.
These themes are timeless. God rejoices over each person who repents, and so should we. We need not kill a calf for repentant persons (Jesus didn’t; the parable illustrates the attitude of rejoicing, not the specific actions we should take). We need to accept repentant sinners to social fellowship (cf. eating with them, verse 2) and religious instruction (cf. allowing them to listen, verse 1). This particular parable does not say we should seek outcasts (that is shown better by the parables of lost sheep and lost coin), but that we should be happy when they come to us to be taught.
In effect, Jesus’ story shows that it is ungodly to refuse to rejoice about repentance. The Pharisees, by insisting on a too-strict standard of righteousness, were being unrighteous. They, too, needed to repent.
The parable of the prodigal son is perhaps one of Jesus most famous parables and probably the best loved parable of all times. The story has found its way in the arts through paintings, stage plays and sculptures. The parable of the prodigal son has also found its way in literature and even popular music.
The parable of the prodigal son is found in the Gospel of Luke chapter 15 verses 11 to 32. The story opens with Jesus telling the story of a man who has two sons. The opening statement of verse 11 will indicate to us that the story is about “Two sons” not just about one son. The error most Christians, readers and even some preachers commit when reading the parable of the prodigal son is focusing on the “prodigal son” only hence the story is often called “the parable of the prodigal son” when in reality the story is not about the parable of the prodigal son, but it is a parable of two sons.
Honesty and humility
By Fr. Jerry Orbos
Last updated 00:07am (Mla time) 09/16/2007
LAST WEEK, AN ELDERLY LADY FROM Ilocos told me: “Father, in America I experienced shock culture.”
“Lola, maybe, you mean culture shock,” I corrected.
“No Father, in America siak agluto, siak aglaba, siak aglinis amin! Siak culture!” (Me cook, me wash, me clean, me everything!)
* * *
In today’s Gospel (Lk. 15, 1-32), Jesus tells us that the prodigal son came to his senses when he realized how miserable his lot had been in a foreign land, doing everything by himself, living in dire need and hunger, a far cry from the life of the well-fed hired workers in his father’s house. Deprivations and humiliations can lead us to the road of conversion. On the other hand, affluence and prosperity can blind and mislead us from our true vision and mission.
* * *
The story of the prodigal son reminds us that nobody stays on top forever. Money can be lost, position can be taken away, friends can disappear, power and glory can fade away. But what remained in the prodigal son was the memory of his home and his loving father. Humility was the key that opened the door that led him out of his brokenness and drudgery. Unless and until one is humble or is humbled, there can be no real conversion, no real freedom, and no real moving on.
* * *
I look at many of our people in high places today, who continue cheating, robbing and lying; and I often wonder if they realize their folly in their search for worldly riches and glory. I often find myself amused and amazed at how they can blurt out their lies and denials “without batting an eyelash” and—wonder of wonders!—somehow live with them. Or so it seems. But I surmise theirs must be a miserable life deep inside because of that constant and present fear of being uncovered, caught and punished for their crimes.
* * *
What would be necessary to make a call a wake-up call? Sickness, pain, loss of a loved one, deprivation—all these are calling and pointing us to home. But what can we say of people who have gone through all these and more, yet go on sinning anyway?
How long can one go on ignoring God’s call? There is no escaping it, for someday soon, we all will have our final call.
* * *
A person can have all the wake-up calls in life, but if he/she does not pick up the phone and answer, then he/she is a subscriber that cannot be reached. Let us not turn off our mobile phones and let us not keep God’s call “waiting.” It is God who is calling. Answer Him. It is God who is knocking. Let Him in.
* * *
There are two keys we need to set us free from our prisons. The first is honesty. As long as we go on denying and rationalizing, we can never really “see.” Let us pray to the Holy Spirit to set us free from our biases and blind spots. The second is humility. As long as we are arrogant and proud, we can never really accept who we really are and the pathetic situation we got ourselves in. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to set us free from our defiance and false securities.
* * *
The prodigal son came to his senses because in all honesty and humility, he realized his present situation. In other words, he faced the light and came “eyeball to eyeball” with his God. Don’t avoid God’s eyes. Don’t evade God’s all-knowing and all-loving look into your eyes.
* * *
Conversion happens when we accept God’s unconditional love and allow God to embrace us, with all out filth, stench, warts and all. Often, conversion does not happen because we keep thinking of some great tomorrow or some big someday when we will be more “good,” or because we keep regretting some great yesterday when we were good “then.” Forget about your great tomorrows or your glorious yesterdays. There’s only now. There’s only love, unconditional.
* * *
They say there are three signs that tell one is growing old. The first sign is forgetfulness. The second sign is … what was it again? Anyway, our greatest confidence is that our God is not only a forgiving but also a forgetting God when it comes to our sins and iniquities.
* * *
I erroneously wrote in my last column that Oct. 15 is the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross, which was actually observed last Sept. 14. Sorry, it was an “honest mistake.” By the way, is there such a thing as “dishonest” mistake?
* * *
Inviting you for a pilgrimage to Naju, Korea this Oct. 17-22 to meet the Korean visionary Julia Kim with whom we experienced a “Eucharistic miracle” in May 1991. God willing, 14-year-old blind girl and healer Fatima Soriano will join us in this pilgrimage. We are looking forward to grace-filled moments with Julia and Fatima. For particulars, please call 7217457; 5238581 to 88.
* * *
P.S. How do you say in Japanese a “lowly woman”? Hamburger (humble girl)!
I think, that’s what we need in our country right now.
* * *
A moment with the Lord:
Lord, help me to be honest and humble so that I can listen and respond to your call. Amen.