Readings: Ex. 32:7-11, 13-14; 1 Tim. 1:12-17; Lk 15:1-32.
Forgiveness is The Key to A Healthy Relationship
The readings of today can be summarized simply as lost and found, strayed and returned. Sinned and forgiveness; estranged and reconciled. They addressed the idea of separation from God and ultimate reunion with Him. There can never be a healthy relationship, in our family, in our church or in the society, without an intentional aspiration for forgiveness, compassion and mercy. Whenever we sin and hurt our brothers and sisters we are away from our senses. It is by coming to our senses that we find ourselves, others and God.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks to a mixed crowd: the tax collectors and sinners and the grumbling Pharisees and scribes, who disapprove of His fellowship “with the wrong kind of people.” In the first reading, Moses intercedes on behalf of the people for their sin of apostasy. They had turned away from the living God and worshipped the Golden Calf. “But Moses implored the Lord, his God, saying, ‘Why, O Lord, should your wrath blaze up against your own people, whom you brought out of the Land of Egypt with such great power and with so strong a hand?’ So the Lord relented in the punishment he had threatened to inflict on his people.” (Ex.32:13,14). Acknowledging the mercy of God, prophet Nehemiah said: “Yet in your great mercy you did not completely destroy them, and you did not forsake them, for you are a kind and merciful God.” (10:31). The Lord revealed himself to Moses as “The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity, continuing his kindness for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness and crime and sin.” (Ex. 34:6-7). God forgives us always not counting our sins. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Is.1:18).
In the second reading Paul gave thanks to Jesus Christ for favors bestowed on him. “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and an arrogant man, but I have been mercifully treated because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief. Indeed, the grace of our Lord has been abundant, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim. 1:13-14). Paul’s sin was grave, but the mercy of God saved him and offered him an opportunity to be an apostle to the gentiles, to be an ambassador of reconciliation. “And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:18-20). “…where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through justification for eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom. 5:20-21).
The Gospel presents us with the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. In the first two parables there is no hint of sin or deliberate separation except that the sheep strayed, the coin was lost, and both were recovered. But there was joy and happiness in their recovery. The story of the lost son is one of the greatest stories ever told. This is the story of hatred and animosity; of overindulging father who fulfilled the demands of an ungrateful son with a false sense of entitlement; It is a story of searching and finding, love and compassion, forgiveness and cold-heartedness, mercy and reconciliation. This is the story of grace! Shakespeare captured the essence of mercy thus: “The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from haven, upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.” This is the story of a father who forgave and loved his son because he chose to. It is the story of joy and jubilation over the repentance of a recalcitrant son. There will be joy in heaven when a sinner returns to God. Margaret Moody captures this joy in the Song ‘When a Sinner Comes As A Sinner May’ “There is joy among the angels, and their harps with music ring, when a sinner comes repenting, bending low before the King.”
The merciful father forgave and embraced his son (welcomes him back fully), put shoes on his feet (he is not a slave, but free) and gave him a ring (restored him to full status with authority to act in the name of the family). While the father forgave his son, his elder brother did not. It was the father again who made the move to reconcile the two brothers. He pleaded but would he listen? Forgiveness is a choice: against anger, hurt, pride, bitterness, suspicion, self-righteousness, grudges and irrational need for revenge. It is a choice for liberation and freedom. The elder brother could not forgive his brother but resented the fact that his father did. Was he envious of his brother? Did he underestimate his father’s love for them? Did he not understand that his father’s love could not be earned; that it is pure grace? Will he ever forgive his brother, and join in the celebration? We will never know. But our attitude towards our enemies and our unwillingness to forgive them is an indicative of the brother’s mindset. These were the scribes and the Pharisees who were upset with Christ for associating with the tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners. There was no love lost between them and Christ!
This story teaches us that there is no perfect family. There must be understanding and forgiveness in our families. Some members must be prepared to sacrifice for peace and concord of others. The task of keeping the family together must be initiated by parents who may be the cause of some of the problems in the family. Over-pampering the children and favoring of child over others can make them feel they can do anything and go free. This attitude has caused problems in many families. Spare the rod and spoil the child is the saying that parents must bear in mind at all times.
Let us pray that the God of forgiveness and mercy may teach us to be merciful ourselves. If we have hurt anyone, let us ask for forgiveness and accept forgiveness when offered. And if we have sinned against God, let us approach the throne of mercy and receive the grace of forgiveness from God who, like the merciful father, waits for us to come to him. He will never withhold his forgiveness and love from us. If today you listen to his voice harden not your heart. May God bless and keep us always in his love. Amen.