THEME: The gospel of mercy and the joy of forgiveness

BY: Fr. Jude Nnadi



Readings: Exodus 32: 7-11, 13-14; 1 Timothy 1: 12-17; Luke 15: 1-32

“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…’ 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… he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine… 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.”

While he was still far 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. And said to the servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put 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 older brother became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. 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.” (Lk 15).
Sisters and brothers, today Luke greets us with parable of the prodigal son in sin or, better, as has been observed by many theologians, the parable of the prodigal father of love. This narration is inserted in the chapter, 15 of the gospels of Luke which is considered a “mini-gospel of mercy and the joy of forgiveness” that God offers to sinners. The parable is distributed in three acts.
The first act is essentially a prologue to the theme of the story. This is not so much the story of a crisis but rather the story of a return, a biblical verb for conversion (in Hebrew shùb) which literally means “to return”, it indicates a change of direction after an error in one’s path. The climax of the story is not, then, in the bitter story of a young man who falls into abjection but is in that decision, in that fundamental word: “I shall get up and go back to my father.”

We then, come, to the second act, the central one not only on a spatial level but also on a spiritual level. A man who caught sight of his son while he was still far a long way off. A father who hopes against all hope, who ceaselessly waits for his wandering and lost son. He is the dominant character of the parable which is, in fact, the story of an invincible love and a prodigal of mercy. As soon as the figure of the sad and solitary son appears on the horizon, he runs to embrace him. In that singular act of return, we see a death that becomes life, a loss through desolate ways that turns into a joyful discovery, it is the full celebration of reconciliation that cancels the past. Our “return” to God will never have a sad surprise of finding a father who is distracted or who has changed residence or who responds abruptly and coldly.

Here, then, comes the third act of the parable, dominated by the figure of the elder brother, “the right-thinkers of all times”, he looks with contempt on the whole miserable world that surrounds him. His cold and merciless reaction is typical of certain religious and observant people who, however, do not know love. Their attitude is like that of the Pharisee of another famous Lucanian parable, “fascinated by his own justice and therefore ready to despise others.” This parable is a subtle reminder even to those who have always remained in the Father’s house of the words of Paul: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 5:19; 3:23). Everyone must beg for forgiveness and above all must share the joy of God every time He embraces a converted sinner.

The parable of the prodigal son is, therefore, a stupendous song in which we find some fundamental themes of the gospel: divine love, joy, conversion, forgiveness, hope, the fight against hypocrisy and pride. God waits for our return; He is ready to embrace us and erase our pasts. His last word is that of forgiveness; His last gesture is a loving embrace.

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