Saturday, March 6, 2010

Not According To Our Sins Does He Deal With Us.

Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

Reading I
Mi 7:14-15, 18-20

Shepherd your people with your staff,
the flock of your inheritance,
That dwells apart in a woodland,
in the midst of Carmel.
Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead,
as in the days of old;
As in the days when you came from the land of Egypt,
show us wonderful signs.

Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt
and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance;
Who does not persist in anger forever,
but delights rather in clemency,
And will again have compassion on us,
treading underfoot our guilt?
You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins;
You will show faithfulness to Jacob,
and grace to Abraham,
As you have sworn to our fathers
from days of old.
The reading comes from the prophet Micah, who was a contemporary of Hoseah and also of Isaiah.

The reading consists of a prayer which appears to be from the time after the return of the Jews from exile in Babylon (537 BC), when the people were still few in number, possessed only a fragment of their former land, and were surrounded by hostile nations.

It is a plea for God to take care of his beleaguered people. But there is confidence because their God is quite unlike any other. The passage reflects what Jesus tells us about God in the Gospel.

“What god can compare with you: taking fault away, pardoning crime, not cherishing anger for ever but delighting in showing mercy?” The people may at times deserve the anger of God but it will never last, for God loves his people too much. In fact, it is difficult to conceive now of a God who responds in anger when his people sin. It is never he who distances himself from us. It is we who are unfaithful.

We can always be sure of his “faithfulness” and of his “faithful love” which he had promised so long ago and so many times. He had sworn to Abraham and Jacob that their descendants would be as numerous as the dust of the earth and the sand on the seashore, and he had promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. He will not go back on that promise.

And so we, too, have confidence of complete forgiveness and reconciliation. This compassion of God for the sinner and his desire to take him back is put graphically in the marvellous story of the Prodigal Son, which is the subject of today’s Gospel.

We, too, provided we are truly sorry and ready to change, can be absolutely sure of meeting the same compassion and forgiveness.

+++ +++ +++ +++
Psalm 103

The Lord is kind and merciful.
Bless the LORD, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
The Lord is kind and merciful.
He pardons all your iniquities,
he heals all your ills.
He redeems your life from destruction,
he crowns you with kindness and compassion.
The Lord is kind and merciful.
He will not always chide,
nor does he keep his wrath forever.
Not according to our sins does he deal with us,
nor does he requite us according to our crimes.
The Lord is kind and merciful.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he put our transgressions from us.
The Lord is kind and merciful.
+++ +++ +++ +++
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Tax collectors and sinners
were all drawing near to listen to Jesus,
but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying,
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So to them Jesus addressed this parable.
“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.’
So the father divided the property between them.
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,
a severe famine struck that country,
and he found himself in dire need.
So he hired himself out
to one of the local citizens
who sent him to his farm to tend the swine.
And he longed to eat his fill
of the pods on which the swine fed,
but nobody gave him any.
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.
I no longer deserve to be called your son;
treat me as you would treat
one of your hired workers.”’
So he got up and went back to his father.
While he was still 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.
His son said to him,
‘Father, I have sinned
against heaven and against you;
I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
But his father ordered his servants,
‘Quickly, bring the finest robe and put it on him;
put a 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 celebration began.
Now the older son had been out in the field
and, on his way back, as he neared the house,
he heard the sound of music and dancing.
He called one of the servants
and asked what this might mean.
The servant said to him,
‘Your brother has returned
and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf
because he has him back safe and sound.’
He became angry,
and when he refused to enter the house,
his father came out and pleaded with him.
He said to his father in reply,
‘Look, all these years I served you
and not once did I disobey your orders;
yet you never gave me even a young goat
to feast on with my friends.
But when your son returns
who swallowed up your property with prostitutes,
for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
He said to 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.’“
The parable of the Prodigal Son, a marvellous revelation of God’s unending love and mercy for the repentant sinner.

Steps in the story:

The son receives his share of the inheritance from a loving father. Asking for his inheritance while his father was still alive was tantamount to saying he could not wait until his father had died.

He goes off to a far country, far from his father.

He is not only far in distance but also in thinking: he wastes the inheritance he has been given in pleasures and enjoyment of the most immoral kind.

In the end, he has nothing.

A famine strikes the place and he has nothing to eat, no money to buy food.

He is forced (horror of horrors for a Jew) to feed pigs and is so hungry he is ready even to eat the slops given to them. One can hardly imagine a lower level of abasement and poverty.

Then, he comes to his senses.

He thinks of the home and the loving father he abandoned so stupidly.

Where the lowest servants are better off than he is.

He will try to go home.

After what he has done, he does not expect to be accepted back.

He will beg to be taken as one of the lowest servants.

He prepares a carefully worded speech for his father.

Then he starts the journey back in fear and trepidation. He knows he deserves very severe treatment, if not outright rejection. “Go back to your pigs and your whores!”

While still far away, the father sees him. He has been anxiously waiting all this time.

But he never sent out to have him brought back.

If the son wants to go his own way, the father will not stop him. He will not be forced back.

Full of compassion the father rushes out to welcome his returning son and takes him in his arms.

The son tries to make his speech of repentance but it is totally ignored.

Instead orders are given for the best clothes to be brought out and a magnificent banquet to be laid on.

“This son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.”

It is a time of celebration.

The elder son, working in the fields (the Lord’s vineyard) comes back at the end of a hard day and hears the sounds of merrymaking.

When he is told what is going on, he is extremely angry.

He has been a loyal, faithful, hard-working son and nothing even approaching this was ever done for him.

While his brother, who was steeped in debauchery and wasted so much of his father’s wealth, is welcomed like a returning hero.

He refuses to go into his father’s house. (Surely the saddest words in this story.)

The father remonstrates: “You are always with me and everything I have is yours.

But your son was utterly lost. Now he is back, we have to celebrate.”

The story is a clear reply to the criticism of the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus was mixing and eating with sinners. They simply did not understand the mind of God as revealed in Jesus’ behaviour. How well do we understand them?

The two clear lessons for today are:

- I can be absolutely sure of God’s mercy and forgiveness provided I turn back to him in true sorrow.

- I need to have the same attitude of compassion with people who offend me. I must be ready to forgive and be reconciled. I cannot refuse to love someone that God loves.

There are three people in this story and we can identify with all of them:

- The son who went far from his Father and followed his own way into the most degrading behavior.

- The son who thought he was good and observant but, deep down, did not have the mind of his Father at all. He kept the commandments and all the rules but did not have a forgiving heart. He did not belong in his Father’s house.

- The Father whose love never changes no matter what his children do and is ready to accept them back every time without exception.

Which of these three most represents me? Which one would I want to be like? Many say they identify most with the elder son. Which, of course, is the point of the story. They are the real sinners - who shut their hearts against God’s compassionate love.


Sarah in the tent said...

I like the way how, at the beginning of the parable, the younger son views his father as 'dead' whereas it turns out at the end of the parable that the younger son was the one who had been 'dead' all along.

It reminds me of some graffiti I once saw:

'God is dead' signed: Nietzsche
'Nietzsche is dead' signed: God

Fr. John L. Sullivan said...

Don't forget the third part, when Nietzsche (or you, or myself) gets to see the Eternal Judge face-to-face:

'You are alive again' signed God.

Sarah in the tent said...

I like your third part!

'He became angry'

This reminds me of the way Jonah became 'mortally angry' at God's mercy to the people of Nineveh. In neither case do we find out whether the elder son or Jonah stopped being angry. The elder son has everything, but his lack of love for his brother makes it all useless. 1 Corinthians 13 could have been written for him.

'Your brother was dead and has come to life again'

The reaction of many Pharisees to Jesus' own resurrection is practically foretold here. The elder son couldn't forgive his brother's wrongs; while many Pharisees found it even harder to forgive Jesus for being right!