Tuesday, April 16, 2019

4th Sunday of Lent C: Joy comes from the Father

March 31, 2019

Jesus, I trust in you!

The parable of the Prodigal Son was originally addressed by the Lord to the scribes and Pharisees who found difficulty in rejoicing over the return of tax collectors and sinners to Jesus. Instead of being happy over the fact that these public sinners are repenting and are changing their lives, the scribes and Pharisees found fault in the way the Lord ate with tax collectors and sinners.

They were like the elder brother in the parable. He could not understand why his father ordered the fattened calf slaughtered when the son who dissipated his property on loose women returned. Why give him a welcome party? Should he not have received a scolding instead? Should he not have been punished for his misdeeds? Should he not have been reproached (sinumbatan): “O anong napala mo sa ginawa mo? Matapos mo akong layasan, babalik ka ngayon kasi kailangan mo ako uli?” Why eat with him? In other words, why does the Lord eat with tax collectors and sinners?

The way the father rejoiced over the safe return of his way ward son shows how the mercy of God is indeed beyond our comprehension. In the Old Testament, the Prophet Jonah could not understand why God did not pursue the destruction of the Ninevites when they repented and converted from their evil ways. The Lord explained his mercy through a plant that sprouted and brought temporary relief to the prophet from the heat of the sun but was destroyed rapidly by a worm. The Lord said to Jonah: “You cared about the plant which you neither tended nor grew. It sprang up in a night and perished in a night. So should I not care for the great city of Nineveh, which has more than 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left?” ( Jonah 4: 10-11)

Sometimes, like the Pharisees and scribes, we think that sinners should be punished. Why was the repentant son not punished? Why was he welcomed instead? The answer is: the son was already “punished.” After dissipating his inheritance, he went hungry. He experienced the humiliation of having to tend swine for a living. The misery was not sent by the father. He merely reaped the consequences of living away and apart from his father. He understood that he got what he deserved. That is why he was even prepared to say: “I do not deserve to be called your son. Treat me as one of your servants.” It was his misery that awakened him to his senses and made him decide to return to his father.

Misery cannot come from the father, only joy. When the son returned home, he did not encounter reproach but a welcoming embrace. The father restored his lost dignity (the robe, sandals, and ring). He was humiliated enough by his sins. Why humiliate him further? “Let us celebrate a feast, because this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” “In heaven, there is rejoicing over the repentance of one sinner.” The boy may have forgotten for a time was he was his father’s son but never did the father forget this. He constantly waited for his son to return and so rejoiced when he came.

And he wanted his elder son to share in his fatherly joy. He gently reminded his faithful son that the repentant boy was also his brother: “But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because YOUR BROTHER was dead and has come to life again, he was lost and has been found.” The sacrament of Reconciliation does not only reconcile the sinner with God. It also reconciles the sinner to the Church. The repentant sinner is not only God’s son. He is also our brother.

The Father rejoiced because he is a prodigal father. He lavishly spends his love upon us his children. Some may find it wasteful especially if that love is lavished on ingrates. But the Father loves anyway. He does not rejoice over the death of a sinner. He wants that sinner to return to him and live. He wants us to do the same. He wants us to share in his joy over the return of a sinner, the return of a brother. While the world clamors for the death of the sinner, the father gently waits for his conversion. “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, 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 us. We implore you in behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God!”

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee! 

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