Our theme for this morning’s meditation is that “God has promised forgiveness to the penitent”.
In our world today people are desperately looking for someone who could tell them that their sins are forgiven. The guilt of past sins weighs down people to such an extent that people begin to lose hope and end up committing suicide.
However, when we look at Jesus, we see that it was always the tax collectors and sinners who were gathering around to hear Jesus. This was because Jesus assured them of the forgiveness of sins to those who were penitent.
In the Gospel reading for this morning from St. Luke, we see Jesus mixing around with the sinners and dinning with them. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered under their breath, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Jesus then teaches them with three parables. In the first parable of the lost sheep the shepherd goes after the one lost sheep and brings back that sheep. In the second parable, a woman is searching for her lost coin and she rejoices when she finds it. Then final parable is the parable of the Prodigal Son where the younger son requests the father for his share of the inheritance and the father actually gives it to him. The father is expected to refuse and punish the prodigal son but instead, in an unprecedented act of love, the request is granted. The parable of the prodigal son is not primarily about a spendthrift boy but about the relationship between God and the sinner and the self-righteous.
In the parable of the prodigal son the youngest son demands his share of the inheritance and receives it. He sold his property, took the money and went away. As he went to a different country, he spent everything in expensive and wild living. There was no parental control and therefore he thought to himself that I could do anything that I please. He had a lot of friends as long as he had money. This is usually true in our world too. There will always be people hanging around us as long as you have the money. Once he lost his money, all his friends deserted him.
During this time there was a great famine and he had no money and no food. It was a picture of complete lostness, of death and rejection. He finally gets the job of taking care of pigs and was starving to death as he tries to eat the pods that the pigs were eating.
As he had hit rock bottom he came to his senses and thought to himself, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.”’ The son wants no grace. He wants to buy back his forgiveness by working as a hired servant. Repentance on the other side is the capacity to forego pride and accept grace.
With this thought in his mind the son goes out to meet his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Even as the son began his dialogue, ‘Father, I have sinned against you…’, the father asked the slaves to bring the best robe and put it on him and also to put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. He then called for a feast and had a fattened calf killed. For he said, “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
The father’s robe was probably meant for honour; the ring meant that he was trusted in a remarkable way and sandals were the mark of the master not the servant. This parable illustrates the great love of God the Father and Jesus who have promised forgiveness for the penitent. We are called to come before him with a broken and contrite heart so that God may truly forgive us.
The parable does not end there. The eldest son comes back and sees all the feast in the father’s house. He is upset that the father has called for this feast for his brother who had squandered everything. He questions the father and said, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you killed the fattened calf for him!’
The eldest son’s obedience was one of slavish obedience. There was no genuine love in the relationship. He was self-righteous and thought that he was doing everything right and therefore should be appreciated.
Many a time we too can be self-righteous and frown upon others whom we consider as ‘sinners’. God wants us to celebrate the repentance of one sinner because heaven celebrates with them.
God has promised forgiveness to the penitent and therefore let us turn to him with a broken and a contrite heart so that we too may find forgiveness.