Today’s Gospel: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Optional Memorial of Saints Perpetua and Felicity, Martyrs
In today’s gospel, the Pharisees complain that Jesus keeps the company of sinners and eats with them. The religious leaders of Jesus’ time looked down upon many of their fellow Jews, feeling they were already condemned for engaging in unacceptable occupations or lifestyles. What the Pharisees don’t realize and what Jesus takes issue with is that they too are sinners in need of God’s mercy.
Mercy can be looked upon as a weakness in our society. However, the Kingdom of Heaven is not about strict justice according to human standards. It’s about compassion. So Jesus tells the story of the Prodigal Son as a response to the Pharisees’ lack of compassion. In the story, a father’s wayward son takes his inheritance and squanders it. He becomes destitute and decides to return home. “When he was still a long way off, his Father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion.” Although this young man had insulted his father and lost his inheritance, the father ran out to greet him and welcome him home. He ordered that a special meal be prepared and his return celebrated by the entire household. Like Jesus eating with the sinners and tax collectors, the Father ate with his son. This is Jesus’ way of looking at God the Father and should be ours. Yet we may often imagine the Father as angry at us for our sins and ready to exact punishment!
A better understanding of God the Father would enrich our understanding of the role of fathers in family life. To quote from my commentary on this parable in The Mother’s Calling:
There are several ways the parable gives an insight into the father’s role in family life. First, the father does not exercise power over his child that would be due him under the law, but instead he displays the most astounding virtues of generosity and an existential respect for his child’s freedom. This must have caused consternation in Jesus’ audience of Pharisees and religious leaders. The father’s actions seemed unfair and unreasonable. Once he left, the vagabond son deserved to be as one dead to his father and all his kin, disgraced and disowned. The elder son, who dutifully stayed with his father, should have been rewarded. Instead, the story barely mentions him until the end, and then his father doesn’t listen to what seems to be a just complaint. Jesus’ parable undermines the strict justice and rules of patriarchy that would have dictated the elder son inherit everything upon the Father’s death. Jesus thus transcends the cultural norms of his day to demonstrate how God relates to us as Father. Mercy—in the Spanish, misericordia—expresses that the Father acts from the heart (corde) and that the heart is the father’s response to misery (miseria) or want. The Father keeps watch for our free decision to seek God, so that he may give his heart to us in our need. (The Mother’s Calling: Love in the Heart of the World, p. 84-5)
Do I experience peace through patient forgiveness toward those who’ve hurt me? Am I aware of the Father’s compassion towards me?
Lord, your mercy is boundless. Show us your mercy so that we may show mercy to others. Banish from us all attitudes of vengeance and anger that keep your Spirit from living within our hearts.
We thank our friends at The Word Among Us for providing our gospel reflection team with copies of Abide In My Word 2015: Mass Readings at Your Fingertips. To pray the daily gospels with this wonderful resource, visit The Word Among Us.
Copyright 2015 Julie Paavola