Today’s gospel of the prodigal son is one of the most familiar of all the parables of Jesus. We have the wayward son who demanded his share of his inheritance and took off wanting to live his own life. He ended up blowing it all. It was only when fortune and friends were gone he came to his senses and made his way home ashamed of his behaviour. He was truly sorry for the way he offended his father, he knew he had sinned against God and his father and all he would ask from his father was a job on the farm so he could have a place to sleep and food to eat. No longer a son but a hired hand.
Then we have a loving father. He knew in his heart the son would probably mess things up but he was willing to give him the freedom he needed at that time in his life. When he saw his son wending his way home he couldn’t help but run out to meet him and take him in his arms and welcome him home. He wouldn’t listen to his son’s wanting only a job, he was just so grateful to have his son home again.
And then we have the other son who was so angry with his father’s reaction to his brother’s return. We can understand his feelings of anger and resentment. He stayed home and worked hard and felt his was never appreciated. He was just taken for granted. He never experienced his father’s generosity, as he told his father, ‘I’ve worked like a slave for you and you never even gave me a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends,’ and you throw this big party for this loser. It all seems so unfair, unjust.
This faithful but angry son is a lot like the son or daughter who is the caregiver for an aging parent. They spend their days and nights caring for a parent sick in mind or body. It seems they never get a ‘thank you’ they are expected just to be there. Other siblings are too far away or too busy to share the load but they are the ones, who on a rare visit, have such a fuss made of them. They seem to be the favourite. The faithful care giver is just there. When they think about it all they seethe with resentment. It just isn’t fair.
We are all so far removed from the love the father lavished on his son on his coming home. We just don’t get it. We are more like the faithful son who isn’t impressed by the ‘humility’ act put on by his brother and are convinced his dotty father is being conned by his brother.
Let’s go back to why Jesus told this powerful parable. He was responding to the complaint that he ate and drank with sinners, that he enjoyed to company of the riff raff of society. That’s not what a true prophet would do. But Jesus doesn’t do this out of humanitarian broadmindedness; he does it to reach out to the outcasts of society to let them know they are important and precious to God.
As I mentioned earlier we are more like the faithful son who isn’t impressed by the ‘humility’ act put on by his brother and is convinced his dotty father is being conned by his brother.
As it was then so it is now, the complaint of the scribes and Pharisees is true; He eats and drinks with sinners. That’s what happening at the Eucharist. Jesus knows we are all good people, he knows our weaknesses, our struggles, our failures. He comes to us as food, as strengthening nourishment to heal our wounds and strengthen us in our struggles to live as he taught us to live by loving God and loving one another. He comes to give us an open heart to understand that those we see as unlovable, unworthy of God’s grace are as precious to God as we are. No one is outside the circle of God’s love.
Let us continue to celebrate this Mass giving thanks to God that Jesus continues to eat and drink with sinners. He eats and drinks with us.