Father Donald Senior, CP

March 27: Fourth Sunday of Lent

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Ministry of Reconciliation

Jos 5:9a, 10-12; Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7; 2 Cor 5:17-21; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32

In today’s second reading, Paul describes himself as an “ambassador for Christ,” as one entrusted with the “message of reconciliation.” The most fundamental “reconciliation” in Paul’s view is God’s “reconciling the world to himself in Christ,” that is, not counting our failings and sins but choosing in Christ to forgive us and to make us “a new creation.”

At a time when we are reeling from the savagery of an unprovoked war, when our own political life seems to be an unending contest of blame and recrimination, when even in the church some accentuate differences and rivalries, reaffirming that our Christian mission is to be ambassadors of God’s reconciliation is a desperately needed message. 

Paul dares to say that it is “as if God were appealing through us” to put aside enmity and embrace forgiveness and a new way of living.

What Paul boldly proclaims to the divided factions among the Christians of Corinth is portrayed in a remarkable way in what may be the most well-known and beloved of all Jesus’ parables — the “lost” or “prodigal” son found in Chapter 15 of Luke’s Gospel. In fact, this entire chapter of Luke’s Gospel bears an astounding message of forgiveness and reconciliation. 

It begins with a familiar refrain, “tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to Jesus,” causing his chronic critics to complain, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 

Jesus responds by telling three parables that reflect in story form God’s unlimited forgiveness: the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin and — the parable selected for today’s gospel reading — the lost son. In each case, characters rejoice in finding the lost: the shepherd who leaves the 99 to find the one lost sheep; the woman who turns her house upside down to find one lost coin, and the most exquisite parable of all, the father who welcomes home his lost son.

If anyone were to doubt that the core message of Jesus is one of divine mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation, they should read this parable. 

Jesus was a keen observer of human nature; he understood the dynamics of family life and parental love. In first-century Jewish culture, the younger son insults his father by asking for his inheritance now — something that should only be his after the death of his father!

And he squanders it all “in a life of dissipation.” The errant son comes to his senses only when he has lost everything and is hungry. He does not really repent, but calculates that he will eat better back at his father’s house than in a land of famine.

But his father is driven not by any cynical calculus but by the mysterious and patient love that only a parent could have. The father waits, hoping and praying for his son who was lost. At last, from “a long way off,” he sees him returning. 

Before the son can get out his story, his father smothers him in forgiving love: the finest robe, a signet ring, sandals on his feet and, most glorious of all, a great feast to celebrate: “This son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”

But Jesus does not end the story simply on a happily-ever-after note. Parental love and family life are more complex than that.  The elder brother resents the apparently costless forgiveness given to his sibling and is consumed with anger. The father must reach out to him, too, seeking a different message of reconciliation and forgiveness: “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice.”

Was the older son touched by his father’s words and did he finally join the celebration? We don’t know. And who is the elder brother in this parable? First-century Jewish Christians who looked down on Gentiles joining the church with such ease? Contemporary Christians concerned about “cheap grace” offered to those on the margins of the church while they remain faithful?   

The question is put to us: How should we respond to such lavish divine forgiveness?



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