While he was still aa long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him… the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we will celebrate by having a feast, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” And they began to celebrate. …his father came out and began to urge him to come in… The father said, “My son, you are with me always, and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”
The Father Welcomes Home
Luke’s story makes it very clear that the father goes out to both of his children. Not only does he run out to welcome the younger wayward son, but he comes out also to meet the elder, dutiful son as he returns from the fields wondering what the music and dancing are all about and urges him to come in.
We do not choose God, God chooses us. From all eternity we are hidden “in the shadow of God’s hand” and “engraved on his palm.” Before any human being touches us, God “forms us in secret” and “textures us” in the depth of the earth, and before any human being decides about us, God “knits us together in our mother’s womb.” God loves us before any human person can show love to us. He loves us with a “first” love, an unlimited, unconditional love, wants us to be his beloved children, and tells us to become as loving as himself.
I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me. The question is not “How am I to find God?” but “How am I to let myself be known by God?” And, finally, the question is not “How am I to love God?” but “How am I to let myself be loved by God?” God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home. In all three parables which Jesus tells in response to the question of why he eats with sinners, he puts the emphasis on God’s initiative. God is the shepherd who goes looking for this lost sheep. God is the woman who lights a lamp, sweeps out the house, and searches everywhere for her lost coin until she has found it. God is the father who watches and waits for his children, runs out to meet them, embraces them, pleads with them, begs and urges them to come home.
Many consumerist economies stay afloat by manipulating the low self-esteem of their consumers and by creating spiritual expectations through material means. As long as I am kept “small,” I can easily be seduced to buy things, meet people, or go places that promise a radical change in self-concept even though they are totally incapable of bringing this about.
The parable of the prodigal son is a story that speaks about a love that existed before any rejection was possible and that will still be there after all rejections have taken place. It is the first and everlasting love of a God who is Father as well as Mother. It is the fountain of all true human love, even the most limited. Jesus’ whole life and preaching had only one aim: to reveal this inexhaustible, unlimited motherly and fatherly love of his God and to show the way to let that love guide every part of our daily lives. It is love that always welcomes home and always wants to celebrate.
The Father Calls For A Celebration
The father does not even give his son a chance to apologize. He pre-empts his son’s begging by spontaneous forgiveness and puts aside his pleas as completely irrelevant in the light of the joy at his return. But there is more. Not only does the father forgive without asking questions and joyfully welcome his lost son home, but he cannot wait to give him new life, life in abundance. So strongly does God desire to give life to his returning son that he seems almost impatient. Nothing is good enough. The very best must be given to him. While the son is prepared to be treated as a hired servant, the father calls for the robe reserved for a distinguished guest; and, although the son no longer feels worthy to be called son, the father gives him a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet to honor him as his beloved son and restore him as his heir.
Celebration belongs to God’s Kingdom. God not only offers forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing, but wants to lift up these gifts as a source of joy for all who witness them. In all three of the parables (lamp, coin, brother) which Jesus tells to explain why he eats with sinners, God rejoices and invites others to rejoice with him. “Rejoice with me,” the shepherd says, “I have found my sheep that was lost.” “Rejoice with me,” the woman says, “I have found the drachma I lost.” “Rejoice with me,” the father saus, “this son of mine was lost and is found.”
The father wants all the people around him to join him around the table, to eat and dance with him. This is not a private affair. This is something for all in the family to celebrate in gratitude.
Joy never denies the sadness, but transforms it to a fertile soil for more joy.