REFLECTION FOR TODAY
March 6, 2021
By Fr. Andrew Ibegbulem, OSA
“Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.” Luke 15:22–24
Mercy is a concept that seems to be on the wane in our society. Power and winning at all costs are the battle cry in today’s world, and mercy is considered weak. God, however, is more than willing to extend his limitless mercy to us. Even if we turn away from him, he will welcome us back into his arms – as long as we repent, and ask for his forgiveness.
Our gospel reference today presents us with the reaction of the faithful son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. As we dig into the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we should be mindful that the title that modern editors have given this parable is distracting. While it’s certainly not false to call it the Parable of the Prodigal Son, it is distracting. To call it the Parable of the Prodigal Son distracts us from the joy of the father. It could be certainly right to call it the Parable of the Loving Father.
In the story, both sons were lost. One was lost far away in reckless living and the other lost at home in unforgivnness. Now was it fair that the father killed the fatted calf and threw this large party to celebrate his wayward son’s return? Was it fair that that same father apparently never even gave his faithful son a young goat to feast on with his friends? The right answer is that this is the wrong question.
It’s easy for us to live in such a way that we always want things to be “fair.” And when we perceive that another receives more than us, we can get angry and bitter. But asking whether or not this is fair is not the right question. When it comes to the mercy of God, God’s generosity and goodness far exceed what is perceived as fair. And if we are to share in the abundant mercy of God, we too must learn to rejoice in His superabundant mercy.
The joy of this father is the focus of Jesus’ teaching. That’s why he tells this parable to His disciples, including you and me. Yes, of course the prodigal son is a key figure in the parable. The parable wouldn’t make sense without him. But the focus here is not the sins of the son, but rather on the joy of the father.
In this story, the act of mercy given to his wayward son was exactly what that son needed. He needed to know that no matter what he had done in the past, his father loved him and rejoiced in his return. Therefore, this son needed an abundance of mercy, partly to reassure him of his father’s love. He needed this extra consolation so as to become convinced that he made the right choice in returning.
The other son, the one who had remained faithful throughout the years, was not treated unfairly. Rather, his discontent came from the fact that he himself lacked the same abundant mercy present in the heart of his father. He failed to love his brother to the same extent and, therefore, failed to see the need to offer this consolation to his brother as a way of helping him understand he was forgiven and welcomed back. Mercy is very demanding and far exceeds what we may at first perceive as rational and just. But if we desire to receive mercy in abundance, we must be ready and willing to offer it to those who need it the most.
When you transpose this parable to your own life, then, you need to recognize that God the Father’s joy is infinitely greater than your sins. A lot of Christians get caught up on this. Many Christians stay away from God because they do not believe that He is even more loving as the prodigal father. This may be due to the example set by their earthly fathers. This may be due to having committed a mortal sin of such depth that they don’t believe it possible for God to forgive them. Whatever the reason, they and we need to turn to the Father whom Jesus describes through this master parable.
Reflect, today, upon how merciful and generous you are willing to be, especially toward those who do not appear to deserve it. Remind yourself that the life of grace is not about being fair; it’s about being generous to a shocking extent. Commit yourself to this depth of generosity toward all and look for ways that you can console another’s heart with the mercy of God. If you do, that generous love will also bless your heart in abundance.
My most generous Lord, You are compassionate beyond what I can fathom. Your mercy and goodness far exceed what any of us deserve. Help me to be eternally grateful for Your goodness and help me to offer that same depth of mercy to those in most need. Jesus, I trust in You.