Love that does not end.
The Gospel this Sunday puts before us one of the best loved and well known of the parables of Jesus, that of the prodigal son. It is the third parable which Jesus has told in response to the grumbling of the Pharisees and teachers of the law about Jesus welcoming sinners and tax collectors. Obviously a wise and holy man of God should only mix with the up standing religious types like them. Jesus wishes to remind them of who God really is - a God a mercy and compassion, slow to anger, abounding in love, a God who never gives up on us and seeks us out in all the strange places where our bad choices can often take us in life.
The most striking image for me in this story is that of the father waiting patiently for his son to return. The father is there watching the road and even when his son is a long way off he is filled with compassion and runs to meet him, rejoicing that his wayward son has changed his direction in life and made his way back to the bosom of his father. There is no grovelling needed, no beating himself up by the son. The father sees his change of heart and accepts him without a question being asked. Jesus is telling us something profoundly true about our God and Father in the figure of the father in this parable. This is the God we pray to, worship and seek to know ever more closely.
However while I can identify with the prodigal son in this story, far too often I can also resemble the older brother. He has always been faithful to his father and worked hard without too much thanks. It is very understandable that he is angry to see his father throwing a big party when his brother, who has wasted all his money and lived a life of sin, finally returns. It makes his blood boil and who can really blame him? But if we are to follow Christ we must be prepared not just to do the minimum in love and mercy but to go the extra mile.
As children of God, reborn in baptism, we are expected, with his grace, to become like him in perfection. This means learning, often with great effort, to forgive those who wrong us, to love those who make mistakes, to look for the good in others even when we disagree with many of their choices. It means being always ready to welcome the repentant brother and sister back into our embrace.
This is the love of God which he pours into our hearts and which he calls us to imitate if we are to follow him. As St Paul reminds us: “Love is patient, love is kind…it is not self - seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs”. (1 Cor 13:4-5) This Lent let us ask God to stretch our hearts to be ever more loving and merciful so that we came become more like Christ who loved us even to the agony of the cross so that we might live in the glory of his resurrection.
Br. David Barrins O.P.
Gospel reading can be found at Catholic Ireland.net