Ex 32:7-11, 13-14; 1Tim.1:12-17 Lk. 15:1-32
God of mercy and compassion
Today’s readings from the Holy Scriptures teach us that Jesus came into the world to save sinners and God our Father is patient and kind and abounding in mercy and compassion.
The reading from the Gospel of Luke speaks of the mercy of God. In this case, three parables are given to declare to magnitude of the mercy of God. These are the parables of the “Lost Sheep,” (Lk. 15:3-7) of the “Lost Coin,” (Lk. 15:8-10) and of the “Prodigal Son.” (Lk. 15:11-32). These parables come as a response to the criticism on the part of the Pharisees and the Scribes that the tax collectors and sinners were coming to listen to him. They were grumbling because Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them. They could not accept his forgiving love. Hence we have the three beautiful parables.
The first parable of the Lost Sheep echoes the prophecy of Ezekiel regarding the incarnation of God. “For thus says the Lord God; I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flock when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep… I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.” (Ezek. 34:11- 16) God incarnated in Jesus Christ did not come to save those who were already saved, but rather the sinners who needed to be saved. He goes in search of the lost one.
The second parable of the Lost Coin relates to us how valuable we are to God. The woman who lost the coin lights a lamp and searches her house till she finds the coin. Once she has found it she celebrates. Often we are puzzled why this coin was so important for her to search and then to celebrate. There is a romantic reason for it. In Palestine, generally young girls were supposed to have labored and earned the crown or chain with eleven coins which they wore at the time of their marriage. This crown expressed their fidelity of marriage and loyalty to the husband. Losing of one coin meant that this fidelity is questioned. Hence a discovery of it was indeed a moment to rejoice that she is once again placed in the trust of her husband. Similarly the fidelity of the soul to God is a cause for the angels to rejoice in heaven.
The last parable of the Lost Son is also known as the parable of the “Prodigal Son.” Again, we see the mercy of God at work in this example. The term ‘prodigal’, means wasteful. We know the story well. Generally the division of the property came after the death of the father. Sometimes a father would decide to divide the property before his death if he chose to do so. (1 Kings, 1-2; Sir. 33; 19-23) As per the rules of the time the younger son was eligible for only one third of the property. On the part of the second son it also meant that his father was dead to him. When the son comes to his senses and returns to his father, we can see the reaction of the father. He is waiting for him. For him it is the person of his son coming back. He is the one who sees him first. He hugs him, kisses him, takes him to the house, feeds him and gives him a special place in the house. The son had the least expectation of such a treatment. He is now forgiven, reinstalled and is one in the family.
The role of the elder son is also important. This elder brother resents the treatment that the father gave to his lost son. He is so upset that when he speaks to his father, he would not even call him “father” as the younger son did. When he speaks of his brother, he refers to him as “this one” instead of saying “my brother.” Here we see a person who is not ready to accept his own brother. The parable of Jesus shows in fact that it is the elder brother who is running the risk of loosing his place as the son and not the second one.
The Gospel concludes with the words of joy, “this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” There is acceptance, love and forgiveness. More than anything the past is forgotten. The younger son has a new life. This is the depth of the mercy of God. Jesus today invites us to experience this unconditional forgiveness and acceptance of God. But he also wants us to extend this virtue in our life to forgive one another.
Anecdote: Unconditional Forgiveness:
Recently, a frail black woman rose slowly to her feet in a South African courtroom. She was 70-something, the years deeply etched on her face. Facing her from across the room were several white security police officers. One, a Mr. Van der Broek, had just been found guilty of murdering the woman’s son and her husband.
The man had come to the woman’s home a number of years earlier. He had taken her son, shot him at point blank range, and then burned his body while he and
some other officers reveled in the act. Several years later, Van der Broek had returned to take away her husband as well. For two years, she could learn nothing of what happened to him. Then, Van der Broek came back for the woman herself. She was led to a place beside a river. There, she saw her husband bound and beaten, lying on a pile of wood. The last words she heard from his lips as the officers poured gasoline over his body and set him aflame were, “Father, forgive them.” But not long ago, justice caught up with Mr. Van der Broek. He had been found guilty, and it was time to determine his sentence. And as the woman stood, the presiding official of the court asked, “So, what do you want? How should justice be done to this man who has so brutally destroyed your family?”
In reply, the woman said, “I want three things. I want first to be taken to the place where my husband’s body was burned so that I can gather up the dust and give his remains a decent burial.” She pauses, then continues. “My husband and son were my only family. I want, secondly, therefore, for Mr. van der Broek to become my son. I would like for him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I can pour out on him whatever love I still have remaining within me.” “And, finally,” she says, “I want a third thing. I would like Mr. Van der Broek to know that I offer him my forgiveness because Jesus Christ died to forgive. This was also the wish of my husband. And so, I would kindly ask someone to come to my side and lead me across the courtroom so that I can take Mr. van der Broek in my arms, embrace him and let him know that he is truly forgiven.”
As the court assistants led the elderly woman across the courtroom, Mr. van der Broek, overwhelmed by what he heard, fainted. Then quietly, from those in the courtroom, friends, family, and neighbors – all victims of similar oppression and injustice – began to sing “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was blind, but now I see.”
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