Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Parable of the Amazing Father
by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them: So to them he addressed this parable. "What man among you have a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, 'Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.
"Or what woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it? And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, 'Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.' In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
Then he said, " A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, 'Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.' So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, 'How many of my father's hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son, treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers."'
So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.' But his father ordered his servants, 'Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.'
Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, 'Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.' He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, '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.' He said to him, 'My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But not we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.'"
Words cannot express the full beauty of God's mercy, poured down upon us through the life and love of Jesus Christ by the strong arm of our loving Father.
Jesus proclaims to the world the tender mercy of the Father through his own merciful heart; he reaches out to the downtrodden through his parables, preaching and generous offers of forgiveness to everyone who draws near.
One of the most important tasks Jesus came to accomplish was to reveal the face of God the Father. As the Eternal Son, this was not a hard task for Our Lord. To gaze upon him was to gaze upon the face of the Father. When the apostle Philip asked Jesus, who spoke so livingly about the Father, "Lord, show us the Father,": Jesus responds: "Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, 'Show us the Father"?" (Jn 14:9).
The parable in today's Gospel, commonly referred to as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, is a precious gem. However, I think that it is a misnomer and should be called the Parable of the Amazing Father. Jesus describes a father who does several things extraordinarily out of character for fathers in that culture and time period. First, the father divides his property and gives half to his son while he himself is still living and in good health. Second, he catches sight of his son returning home while he was still a long way off, suggesting that every day he went to the edge of his property or town and looked into the distance to see if, by chance, his son was close to home. When the father sees his son, he runs to greet him. Men of a mature age did not run in that culture. The father also tells his servants to quickly clothe the young son with a fine robe, a ring and sandals. This act spoke loudly to Jews of Jesus' day because any son who squandered his father's inheritance would have been formally and permanently cast out of the family. Finally, the father goes out in search of the older son who refuses to join the celebration. The father pleads with him to come and participate.
Why would you not want to draw near to this father? Why would you not love this father with all of your mind, heart and soul? Why would you not give your life in service to this father in thanksgiving for his mercy, which is generous beyond comprehension?
The father's amazing mercy demands a generous response.
St. Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians, recalls, "in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So, we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through through us."
God is asking us to bring his message of mercy into the world. However, he really should not have to ask. It should be something that comes naturally to us, something we are compelled to do from deep within our gut, as the only response appropriate to the mercy we have received.
The woman at the well in John's Gospel comes immediately to mind. After her encounter with Christ and his generous and tender mercy, she drops everything, leaves her bucket at the well and runs back into town to invite everyone to meet Jesus: "Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did" IJn4:29). Critical to the Good News she shares is the fact that he addressed her darkest secrets and greatest sins in a way that set her free and gave her hew life. Her message was so compelling that many came to faith in Jesus: "Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified" (Jn 4:39).
This Lent, make the effort to gaze upon the face of our Heavenly Father by looking intently at Jesus. Let Jesus pour down upon you his tender, loving mercy. With joy and passion, become an ambassador for Christ and bring the message of reconciliation into the world around you.