This one of those gospel stories we all know by heart. The know-it- all son wanting to take off, see the world, make his mark. He had to get off that boring farm and see the city lights. We know what happened. His plans and dreams fell apart and he comes home hanging his head and mumbling ‘I’m sorry.’ Of course his father is overjoyed to see his lost son. He runs to him, embraces him and welcomes him home with a party. Maybe the father knew his son well enough that he knew he was too young, too inexperienced to be out on his own. He knew his son would blow it, he just hoped he’d have the brains to come home; he hoped his son would trust that his father loved him enough to take him back. It was a gamble the father took.
The father is a lot like many parents and grandparents today who have sons and daughters seeing the world. They’ve finished their studies and now want to take some time off to travel – go to far countries, explore new cultures, meet new people, taste new food. It is a wonderful opportunity but I suspect many parents have sleepless nights worrying whether or not they are safe and sound. The world out there is not all that safe a place, terrorists and terrorism and muggings are realities. We have the case of the young fellow in a wheelchair who was mugged in Australia, far from home. Yet loving parents know sons and daughters have to find these things out for themselves.
The thing that impresses me most about this story is that it took more love for the father to let his son go than it did to welcome home. We know the father in the story represents God. Because God loves us so much, respects us so much he’s given us a great gift, the gift of freedom. We are not puppets God controls by strings; we are free and make our own choices every day. Whether we like it or not our choices have consequences, good or bad.
Today’s story is about a young man who made a bad choice. But it’s not the end of the story. At one point in the story we’re told ‘he came to himself’ he smartened up, he realized just how dumb he was. He didn’t make excuses, he didn’t say, “That goody goody brother of mine was driving me crazy, I just had to get out of the house.” He admitted to himself ‘I blew it, I was wrong.’
Luckily he had that kind of a relationship with his father that he knew his father would take him back. He knew things would never be the same, he spent his inheritance but he knew his father would help make things right. He made up his little speech and headed home only to find that his father wasn’t interested in speeches, his father was thrilled, ‘we’re a family again.’ Well almost. His elder son, his ever faithful son wanted nothing to do with his brother – in fact he wouldn’t even call him his brother, he said ’this son of yours’. There’s no way I want anything to do with him.
Which brings us back to why Jesus told this story in the first place; the Pharisees and the Scribes, the observant and faithful ones were shocked, scandalized that this so called prophet Jesus was welcoming, can you believe it, welcoming sinners. He was even eating and drinking, having a grand time with these tax collectors and sinners. These riff raff. How awful, how shocking, our outrageous, how non kosher.
But the story tells us ‘how God like.’ There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, who comes to his senses, than over the 99 just.
Jesus was delighted to eat and drink with sinners. He still is. He’s here with all of us, ready to break bread and share the cup. This is the happiest day of the week for Him. Here we are sinners all, admitting our faults and weakness, our ingratitude for God’s countless gifts. Here we are sinners all, weak mistake making beings who want to be better, who want to be more loving, more patient, more accepting of others, more forgiving, more in control of needs and passions, more faithful to Mass, the sacraments and prayer. Here we are sinners all who want to be more trustful of, more open to the love we celebrate together, the love of the crucified Christ.
As sinners but good people all, we continue to celebrate this gathering of Christ and sinners, we thank Him for welcoming us, enjoying or company. We pray that, like the wandering, searching, foolish son, we too may come ourselves, come to our senses and face those ways of living and loving that weaken our relationship with God and trust that we will always be welcomed home.