Every parent would eagerly welcome home a wayward or rebellious child – especially if the child were truly sorry and repentant, like the Prodigal Son in our gospel story (Lk 15:1-3, 11-32). But within that same family, there might be another brother/sister who would not forgive their sibling, and all of a sudden the “crown of rebellion” is transferred to someone else!
I remember a friend saying many years ago that the “lost” things of this world are not God’s problem, they are really Our “problem.” In other words, the wayward (lost) people are not a problem at all! They are our brothers and sisters in Christ, who have wandered away from God. We humans perhaps see them as a “problem,” an inconvenience,” and so we have no difficulty distancing ourselves from them.
But the parable today teaches us that these brothers and sisters of ours are “lost,” and need to be “found” – i.e., lovingly invited to come back, and welcomed warmly when they return home. The Church does offer a number of programmes to help people return after being absent for a period of time. This makes it easier for the wanderer to know that they are always loved and will be accepted warmly when they return.
Today’s parable was addressed to the “insiders” – the grumbling and complaining Pharisees and scribes, who did not like the way Jesus was accepting the “outsiders” (the “tax collectors and sinners”). Do we individually use the loving approach of our Church with our individual friends and family members who have wandered away from God? Or do we choose to act like the unforgiving Pharisees and scribes?
We must always remember the incredible dignity of every human person, created in God’s image. Lent is a time to intensify our practice of forgiveness, of unconditional love, echoing the unlimited mercy of our Father’s love. Remember that when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are returning to the Father as a prodigal son or daughter, asking forgiveness.