This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them. This complaint of the righteous Pharisees shows up several times in the gospel. There is an ancient rabbinic teaching that goes; feeding sinners is praiseworthy; eating with them is forbidden. Jesus was doing what rabbinic law forbade. He bothered the Pharisees no end. Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them, shares a meal with them. That’s what Jesus is doing right now as we celebrate this Mass. He welcomes us, knowing our faults and failings, knowing our struggles and worries, sinners all, and still he shares the bread of life with us. What a gift.
I think most of us know today’s parable by heart. We hear of the wayward son who left home and squandered his inheritance. We meet the dutiful son who stayed home to help his father maintain the farm. We hear of the grand re-union and the party to celebrate one who was lost but found, presumed dead but now alive. What’s not to celebrate?
Then we meet the resentful brother who stayed home to help the father run the farm. We find out he didn’t do that all that gracefully. It turns he was secretly seething over his father’s behavior. With a smile on his face but deep resentment in his heart he worked like a slave, did everything he was told, everything that was expected on him, and for what? Never once was he told he was doing a good job, never a word of thanks. His father never thought he might want to have friends over for a party. We can just imagine the rage behind his smiling face.
In these three stories of Jesus; the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son we’re dealing not so much with the lost but the found, the joy and relief of finding what was lost. We probably all had some kind of this experience, missing something that means much to us and finding it. It could be an article or it could be a friendship.
Our relief, our joy and happiness pale in relationship to the joy among the angels of God when we ourselves or someone we know, comes their senses and accepts the invitation to come home to our father’s home, our father’s love, our father’s welcome.
Knowing that Jesus delights in sharing this meal with us, mistake making beings that we are, may we never doubt that if ever we should be lost we will always find a welcome mat at the door of our father’s house.