There are always passages, no doubt, in the Scriptures that have impacted our spiritual life and our concept of God. These become our favorites over time and I am sure you have your own, which resonate with you every time you read them or listen to them on weekdays or Sundays. For me, one of these favorite passages is found with this Sunday's Gospel reading. It is from the Gospel of St. Luke, chapter 15. Chapter 15 is about three concepts that deal with our notion of God in our lives and which Jesus, as a good Teacher, surely wanted to convey to us. I could categorize the concepts of this Chapter 15 of St. Luke as The Parable of the Lost Coin, The Parable of the Lost Sheep and The Parable of the Lost Son. Quite an array of thoughts and images present in the three of them.
I used to ask the second and third grade children, during the school Mass on Wednesday mornings, in one of my former Parishes in Louisiana where I was a Pastor for seven years, this question: Which is Fr. Vicente's favorite passage in the Bible? And they all shouted back aloud: LUKE 15!! From this Chapter, this Sunday's reading we only listen to the reading of the third parable, a very long one, at that: The Parable of the Lost Son, that has also been called The Parable of the Loving Father.
The reasons that this parable resonates so deeply with me are varied: I could be the lost son who goes away from the Father. In fact all of us have had, no doubt a taste of HOMECOMING, after going away to a distant land. Yes, we all have come home, and not once but many times, I am sure. Every sinner DISTANCES himself or herself from God and from the community of believers, the Church, through sin. When St. Luke writes that the younger son asked for his part of his inheritance and went to off to a distant land, he gives us a true definition of SIN, a going away from, of leaving home for a distant land where after a while, like the young son, we would be miserable and ache and yearn TO COME HOME.
Other reasons for liking this Parable are the images of the elder son and of the Loving Father. We indeed at one time or another have been the perfect image of the older son, faithful yes, but resentful, restrained, envious, hateful, ungenerous, selfish, unwelcoming the other, in other words, lacking in unconditional love. We all have been there.
THE FATHER by contrast, is the perfect image of the God that Jesus teaches and came to reveal to us. We truly would love if, in our life, we had been THE FATHER, offering the same unconditional love to others. This FATHER has loved us from all eternity and has always been faithful, to this generous love even when we are unfaithful in ours, of Him, or of others. That is why I like Luke 15 so much. Because this is the God I want to believe in and the God I want to preach as a Preacher and as a Minister of His Mercy.
What is your distant land? Perhaps rationalizing sinfulness so that sin will be sent to oblivion, perhaps that distant land is the place where we go to escape God or our very responsibilities, perhaps it is an addiction, either physical or emotional. For some, the distant land might be an angry place in the heart where grudges are nursed and resentments are savored and vengeance is plotted. Is that distant land a sorrow or sadness that we refuse to relinquish or an apathy from which we are loath to emerge? Perhaps the distant land might be the person in whose company our vision becomes clouded, our values grow distorted and our resolve to do what is good, right, and just is weakened.
Whatever, whoever, or wherever that distant land may be and regardless of how long we have been there, the message of today's Gospel is exceedingly clear. God is waiting with open arms and a forgiving heart to welcome us HOME, to reconcile us in love and to rejoice in our restoration and homecoming. One question remains—what are we waiting for? Luke 15 is Jesus' GIFT to us.
And on this Day of Remembrance of evil done, (9/11) let us ask God more intensely for the GIFT of his PEACE,