Overcoming Self-Righteousness

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Readings for Today

Our Lady of Sorrows – Memorial

Lucas Cranach the Elder [Public domain or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

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.”   Luke 15:1-2

What a foolish and arrogant thing to say!  Jesus was merciful, welcoming, forgiving and loving to those who were sinners.  And the Pharisees and scribes complained about this as if Jesus were doing something wrong.

On one level, it is understandable that the pride-filled scribes and Pharisees would look for anything they could to condemn Jesus.  They were on a sort of “witch hunt,” so to speak, seeking to find any fault they could with our Lord.  So, out of the fullness of their malice, they attempted to make it look like Jesus was an awful sinner due to the fact that He spent time with sinners and welcomed them.

From a perspective of the pure truth, however, the jealousy, envy, manipulation and deception of the scribes and Pharisees are clear.  The “condemnation” they uttered against Jesus was no true condemnation at all.  It was a fabrication and a twisting of the truth.  The truth is that Jesus’ kindness to those who were sinners was a living out of His countless virtues.  He was understanding, merciful, compassionate, patient, forgiving and the like.  He saw troubled hearts and reached out to them in their need, especially when He could tell they were sorry, open and humble.

We may all encounter those who are religiously “self-righteous” at times.  This is an ugly sin and one that should not sit well with us.  The problem is that those who are self-righteous are often times also intimidating and oppressive.  Those who condemn others in the name of God are hard to confront.  Jesus’ initial response was to ignore them and to go about His ministry of love and compassion, telling parables and helping those in need.  But eventually He took these religious leaders on directly, condemning them for their pride and arrogance.

Reflect, today, upon any tendency you have in your heart to judge another, especially when you try to do so in the name of God.  If you struggle with self-righteousness and pride, humble yourself now so that our Lord will not eventually be compelled to issue forth His justice on you!

Lord, please have mercy upon me and heal me of my sins.  Free me from all tendencies toward judgmentalness and help me, in imitation of You, to love and welcome the sinner in my midst so that I, as a sinner, will be welcomed by You.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Overcoming Self-Righteousness

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Readings for Today

Our Lady of Sorrows – Memorial

Lucas Cranach the Elder [Public domain or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

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.”   Luke 15:1-2

What a foolish and arrogant thing to say!  Jesus was merciful, welcoming, forgiving and loving to those who were sinners.  And the Pharisees and scribes complained about this as if Jesus were doing something wrong.

On one level, it is understandable that the pride-filled scribes and Pharisees would look for anything they could to condemn Jesus.  They were on a sort of “witch hunt,” so to speak, seeking to find any fault they could with our Lord.  So, out of the fullness of their malice, they attempted to make it look like Jesus was an awful sinner due to the fact that He spent time with sinners and welcomed them.

From a perspective of the pure truth, however, the jealousy, envy, manipulation and deception of the scribes and Pharisees are clear.  The “condemnation” they uttered against Jesus was no true condemnation at all.  It was a fabrication and a twisting of the truth.  The truth is that Jesus’ kindness to those who were sinners was a living out of His countless virtues.  He was understanding, merciful, compassionate, patient, forgiving and the like.  He saw troubled hearts and reached out to them in their need, especially when He could tell they were sorry, open and humble.

We may all encounter those who are religiously “self-righteous” at times.  This is an ugly sin and one that should not sit well with us.  The problem is that those who are self-righteous are often times also intimidating and oppressive.  Those who condemn others in the name of God are hard to confront.  Jesus’ initial response was to ignore them and to go about His ministry of love and compassion, telling parables and helping those in need.  But eventually He took these religious leaders on directly, condemning them for their pride and arrogance.

Reflect, today, upon any tendency you have in your heart to judge another, especially when you try to do so in the name of God.  If you struggle with self-righteousness and pride, humble yourself now so that our Lord will not eventually be compelled to issue forth His justice on you!

Lord, please have mercy upon me and heal me of my sins.  Free me from all tendencies toward judgmentalness and help me, in imitation of You, to love and welcome the sinner in my midst so that I, as a sinner, will be welcomed by You.  Jesus, I trust in You.

The Closeness of God

The Closeness of God

Where is God?  It’s easy to think of God being in Heaven or some far off place, looking down upon us and guiding all of creation in accord with His holy Will.  This is true, but it’s not the full picture.  God is perfectly “transcendent” in that He is way beyond us and beyond the created world.  But He is also perfectly “immanent” in that He lives within us.  When you pray, seek Him especially within your own soul.  Remember that when you receive Holy Communion, God makes your soul a tabernacle.  He enters in and remains within unless He is excluded on account of sin.  Seek His divine presence within your soul and you will discover the intimacy of His abundant Mercy (See Diary #1302).

Reflect upon the image of a tabernacle.  Within that sacred dwelling the full glory of God exists in veiled form.  But He is there, alive, radiant and glorious.  Now see your soul as this tabernacle.  See Him coming to you to make His dwelling within you.  God desires to fully live within you, making your heart the place of His gentle repose.  Spend time today seeking our Lord within.  Talk to Him, listen to Him, and commune with Him.  Let your heart become alive and radiant with His holy presence.  For within your heart is the presence of God.

Lord, I thank You for coming to me and making my heart Your dwelling place.  I thank You for Your perfect love and care and I pray that I may discover Your divine presence in my life more fully each and every day.  I am Yours, dear Lord, make my soul radiant with Your eternal glory.  Jesus, I trust in You.

La Speranza cristiana – 8. Giuditta: il coraggio di una donna dà speranza al popolo

PAPA FRANCESCO

UDIENZA GENERALE

Aula Paolo VI
Mercoledì, 25 gennaio 2017


 

La Speranza cristiana – 8. Giuditta: il coraggio di una donna dà speranza al popolo

Cari fratelli e sorelle, buongiorno!

Tra le figure di donne che l’Antico Testamento ci presenta, risalta quella di una grande eroina del popolo: Giuditta. Il Libro biblico che porta il suo nome narra l’imponente campagna militare del re Nabucodonosor, il quale, regnando in Ninive, allarga i confini dell’impero sconfiggendo e asservendo tutti i popoli intorno. Il lettore capisce di trovarsi davanti ad un grande, invincibile nemico che sta seminando morte e distruzione e che arriva fino alla Terra Promessa, mettendo in pericolo la vita dei figli di Israele.

L’esercito di Nabucodonosor, infatti, sotto la guida del generale Oloferne, pone l’assedio a una città della Giudea, Betulia, tagliando il rifornimento dell’acqua e fiaccando così la resistenza della popolazione.

La situazione si fa drammatica, al punto che gli abitanti della città si rivolgono agli anziani chiedendo di arrendersi ai nemici. Le loro sono parole disperate: «Non c’è più nessuno che ci possa aiutare, perché Dio ci ha venduti nelle loro mani per essere abbattuti davanti a loro dalla sete e da terribili mali. Sono arrivati a dire questo: “Dio ci ha venduti”; la disperazione era grande in quella gente. Ormai chiamateli e consegnate l’intera città al popolo di Oloferne e a tutto il suo esercito perché la saccheggino» (Gdt 7,25-26). La fine sembra ormai ineluttabile, la capacità di fidarsi di Dio si è esaurita. La capacità di fidarsi di Dio si è esaurita. E quante volte noi arriviamo a situazioni di limite dove non sentiamo neppure la capacità di avere fiducia nel Signore. È una tentazione brutta! E, paradossalmente, sembra che, per sfuggire alla morte, non resti che consegnarsi nelle mani di chi uccide. Loro sanno che questi soldati entreranno a saccheggiare la città, prendere le donne come schiave e poi uccidere tutti gli altri. Questo è proprio “il limite”.

E davanti a tanta disperazione, il capo del popolo tenta di proporre un appiglio di speranza: resistere ancora cinque giorni, aspettando l’intervento salvifico di Dio. Ma è una speranza debole, che gli fa concludere: «E se proprio passeranno questi giorni e non ci arriverà alcun aiuto, farò come avete detto voi» (7,31). Povero uomo: era senza uscita. Cinque giorni vengono concessi a Dio – e qui è il peccato -; cinque giorni vengono concessi a Dio per intervenire; cinque giorni di attesa, ma già con la prospettiva della fine. Concedono cinque giorni a Dio per salvarli, ma sanno che non hanno fiducia, attendono il peggio. In realtà, nessuno più, tra il popolo, è ancora capace di sperare. Erano disperati.

È in tale situazione che compare sulla scena Giuditta. Vedova, donna di grande bellezza e saggezza, ella parla al popolo con il linguaggio della fede. Coraggiosa, rimprovera in faccia il popolo (dicendo): «Voi volete mettere alla prova il Signore onnipotente, […]. No, fratelli, non provocate l’ira del Signore, nostro Dio. Se non vorrà aiutarci in questi cinque giorni, egli ha pieno potere di difenderci nei giorni che vuole o anche di farci distruggere dai nostri nemici. […] Perciò attendiamo fiduciosi la salvezza che viene da lui, supplichiamolo che venga in nostro aiuto e ascolterà il nostro grido, se a lui piacerà» (8,13.14-15.17). È il linguaggio della speranza. Bussiamo alle porte del cuore di Dio, Lui è Padre, lui può salvarci. Questa donna, vedova, rischia di fare anche una brutta figura davanti agli altri! Ma è coraggiosa! Va avanti! Questa è un’opinione mia: le donne sono più coraggiose degli uomini. (Applausi in aula).

E con la forza di un profeta, Giuditta richiama gli uomini del suo popolo per riportarli alla fiducia in Dio; con lo sguardo di un profeta, ella vede al di là dello stretto orizzonte proposto dai capi e che la paura rende ancora più limitato. Dio agirà di certo – ella afferma –, mentre la proposta dei cinque giorni di attesa è un modo per tentarlo e per sottrarsi alla sua volontà. Il Signore è Dio di salvezza, – e lei ci crede -, qualunque forma essa prenda. È salvezza liberare dai nemici e far vivere, ma, nei suoi piani impenetrabili, può essere salvezza anche consegnare alla morte. Donna di fede, lei lo sa. Poi conosciamo la fine, come è finita la storia: Dio salva.

Cari fratelli e sorelle, non mettiamo mai condizioni a Dio e lasciamo invece che la speranza vinca i nostri timori. Fidarsi di Dio vuol dire entrare nei suoi disegni senza nulla pretendere, anche accettando che la sua salvezza e il suo aiuto giungano a noi in modo diverso dalle nostre aspettative. Noi chiediamo al Signore vita, salute, affetti, felicità; ed è giusto farlo, ma nella consapevolezza che Dio sa trarre vita anche dalla morte, che si può sperimentare la pace anche nella malattia, e che ci può essere serenità anche nella solitudine e beatitudine anche nel pianto. Non siamo noi che possiamo insegnare a Dio quello che deve fare, ciò di cui noi abbiamo bisogno. Lui lo sa meglio di noi, e dobbiamo fidarci, perché le sue vie e i suoi pensieri sono diversi dai nostri.

Il cammino che Giuditta ci indica è quello della fiducia, dell’attesa nella pace, della preghiera e dell’obbedienza. È il cammino della speranza. Senza facili rassegnazioni, facendo tutto quanto è nelle nostre possibilità, ma sempre rimanendo nel solco della volontà del Signore, perché – lo sappiamo – ha pregato tanto, ha parlato tanto al popolo e poi, coraggiosa, se ne è andata, ha cercato il modo di avvicinarsi al capo dell’esercito ed è riuscita a tagliargli il capo, a sgozzarlo. È coraggiosa nella fede e nelle opere. E cerca sempre il Signore! Giuditta, di fatto, ha un suo piano, lo attua con successo e porta il popolo alla vittoria, ma sempre nell’atteggiamento di fede di chi tutto accetta dalla mano di Dio, sicura della sua bontà.

Così, una donna piena di fede e di coraggio ridà forza al suo popolo in pericolo mortale e lo conduce sulle vie della speranza, indicandole anche a noi. E noi, se facciamo un po’ di memoria, quante volte abbiamo sentito parole sagge, coraggiose, da persone umili, da donne umili che uno pensa che – senza disprezzarle – fossero ignoranti … Ma sono parole della saggezza di Dio! Le parole delle nonne .. Quante volte le nonne sanno dire la parola giusta, la parola di speranza, perché hanno l’esperienza della vita, hanno sofferto tanto, si sono affidate a Dio e il Signore fa questo dono di darci il consiglio di speranza. E, andando per quelle vie, sarà gioia e luce pasquale affidarsi al Signore con le parole di Gesù: «Padre, se vuoi, allontana da me questo calice. Tuttavia non sia fatta la mia, ma la tua volontà» (Lc 22,42). E questa è la preghiera della saggezza, della fiducia e della speranza.

GIOVANNI PAOLO II UDIENZA GENERALE Mercoledì, 8 agosto 1979

1. Anche oggi, come la settimana scorsa, desidero dedicare il nostro incontro alla memoria del grande Papa Paolo VI, che il Padre Celeste ha richiamato a sé un anno fa, nella solennità della Trasfigurazione del Signore. Certamente, né il precedente discorso né quello di oggi potranno esaurire la multiforme ricchezza di quel pontificato e di quella personalità. Ciò che desideriamo mettere in rilievo quest’oggi è la meravigliosa convergenza del giorno della morte col carisma della vita di Paolo VI. Ho cercato di sviluppare questo pensiero la scorsa settimana, concentrandomi soprattutto sull’importante fatto della trasformazione della Chiesa, trasformazione promossa dalla rilettura dei segni dei tempi da parte del Concilio Vaticano Il. Giovanni XXIII soleva definire questa trasformazione: “aggiornamento”. Tuttavia a quel grande processo, a cui il “Papa della bontà” diede soltanto inizio, il Papa Paolo VI dedicò tutto il suo difficile pontificato di quindici anni.

Quell’“aggiornamento”, quel rinnovamento o “trasformazione” fu dettato dalla profonda conoscenza della natura della Chiesa e dall’amore per la sua missione salvifica. Per iniziativa di Papa Giovanni e, in seguito, sotto la guida di Papa Paolo, la Chiesa si è adeguata ai compiti inerenti alla sua missione di fronte all’uomo dei nostri tempi, di fronte alla famiglia umana, alla quale è stata inviata. Il senso più profondo dell’“aggiornamento” e strettamente evangelico: risulta dalla volontà di servire, seguendo il Cristo, dalla volontà di servire Dio negli uomini, di servire l’uomo. Il servizio s’identifica con la missione, riscoperta nella missione salvifica di Cristo stesso.

2. La missione di servire l’uomo, nello stile del ministero pontificale di Paolo VI, ha sempre avuto una dimensione concreta e insieme universale. Si serve infatti ogni uomo, servendo le cause dalle quali dipende un giusto indirizzo della sua vita in determinate condizioni: storiche, sociali, economiche, politiche e culturali. Paolo VI, nella sua missione a favore della trasformazione della sorte dell’uomo sulla terra, ha sempre messo al primo posto la grande causa della pace tra le nazioni. A questa causa ha dedicato la massima attenzione, la più grande sollecitudine e premura. Basti ricordare i suoi annuali messaggi per la Giornata Mondiale della Pace, che gli hanno permesso di sviluppare questa grande e centrale tematica etica dei nostri tempi da diversi punti di vista.

“La pace vera – egli ricordava, ad esempio, nella Giornata della Pace 1971 – deve essere fondata sulla giustizia, sul senso dell’intangibile dignità umana, sul riconoscimento dell’incancellabile e felice eguaglianza fra gli uomini, sul dogma basilare della fraternità umana. Cioè del rispetto, dell’amore dovuto ad ogni uomo, perché uomo. Erompe la parola vittoriosa: perché fratello. Fratello mio, fratello nostro” (Il volto della pace, n. 172).

“Se vuoi la pace, lavora per la giustizia”. Questo era l’impegno che Paolo VI proponeva nel Messaggio dell’anno successivo. E commentava: “È un invito che non ignora le difficoltà a praticare la Giustizia, a definirla, prima di tutto, ad attuarla poi, e non mai senza qualche sacrificio del proprio prestigio e del proprio interesse. Occorre forse maggiore magnanimità ad arrendersi alle ragioni della Giustizia e della Pace, che non a lottare e ad imporre il proprio diritto, autentico o presunto, all’avversario” (Ivi, nn. 228-230).

E ancora: “Rendiamola possibile, la pace insisteva in un altro Messaggio predicando l’amicizia e praticando l’amore del prossimo, la giustizia e il perdono cristiano, apriamole le porte, ove fosse estromessa, con trattative leali e rivolte a sincere conclusioni positive; non rifiutiamo qualche sacrificio, che, senza offendere la dignità di chi si fa generoso, renda la pace più rapida, cordiale e duratura” (Ivi, n. 274).

3. L’importanza della causa della pace nella vita dell’umanità odierna bisogna misurarla anche sulla base della minaccia mortale che può costituire la guerra moderna, attraverso l’uso di tutti quei mezzi distruttivi, che portano all’autodistruzione. Tuttavia nessun altro più dell’apostolo e vicario di Cristo stesso, che è il vero Principe della Pace, deve aver coscienza che è impossibile assicurare la pace alla vita internazionale guardando soltanto ai mezzi di cui può servirsi l’uomo. È necessario piuttosto guardare all’uomo, che di quei mezzi si serve. È lui stesso che deve volere in modo maturo e responsabile la pace, e modellare la vita dell’umanità in tutte le sue dimensioni, in base ad una coerente ricerca della pace. Alla pace si arriva attraverso la giustizia, attraverso una completa e universale giustizia: “opus iustitiae pax”.

Giovanni XXIII, nella Pacem in Terris aveva sottolineato i quattro fondamentali diritti della persona umana, che per il bene della pace debbono essere rispettati nella vita sociale e internazionale: il diritto alla verità, alla libertà, alla giustizia, all’amore. Paolo VI, svolgendo organicamente questo pensiero, pubblicò l’Enciclica per la promozione dello sviluppo dei popoli, nella quale ha chiamato tale giusto sviluppo col “nuovo nome della pace”.

Ricordiamo tutti le sue parole: “…se lo sviluppo è il nuovo nome della pace, chi non vorrebbe cooperarvi con tutte le sue forze?” (Paolo VI, Populorum Progressio, 87). Ed ancora: “Combattere la miseria e lottare contro l’ingiustizia, è promuovere, insieme con il miglioramento delle condizioni di vita, il progresso umano e spirituale di tutti, e dunque il bene comune dell’umanità. La pace non si riduce a un’assenza di guerra, frutto dell’equilibrio sempre precario delle forze. Essa si costruisce, giorno per giorno, nel perseguimento d’un ordine voluto da Dio, che comporta una giustizia più perfetta tra gli uomini” (Ivi, 76).

4. Il Papa, che Cristo ha richiamato a sé nella solennità della Trasfigurazione, ha sempre continuato a riprendere un instancabile lavoro a favore dell’opera di trasformazione dell’uomo, della società, dei sistemi, opera che doveva portare frutti tanto desiderati dagli uomini, dalle nazioni, dall’intera umanità: i frutti della giustizia e della pace. Guardando con assidua attenzione, e talvolta forse con inquietudine, e soprattutto con continua speranza cristiana, lo sviluppo multiforme degli avvenimenti nel mondo contemporaneo, egli ha sempre lavorato a favore di quella civiltà che qualificò col nome di “civiltà dell’amore”, secondo lo spirito del più grande comandamento di Cristo.

La Chiesa si pone a servizio di tale “civiltà dell’amore” mediante la sua missione, legata all’annunzio e all’attuazione del Vangelo. Particolarmente cara a Paolo VI è stata l’evangelizzazione nel mondo contemporaneo alla quale – su richiesta dei vescovi radunati in Sinodo nel 1974 – dedicò una magnifica Esortazione, la Evangelii Nuntiandi, quasi somma di pensiero e di indicazioni apostoliche, scaturite dal magistero conciliare e dalla continua esperienza della Chiesa.

“L’impegno di annunziare il Vangelo agli uomini del nostro tempo – egli esordiva – uomini animati dalla speranza, ma, parimenti, spesso travagliati dalla paura e dall’angoscia, è senza alcun dubbio un servizio reso non solo alla comunità cristiana, ma anche a tutta l’umanità” (Paolo VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 1).

E spiegava: “Evangelizzare, per la Chiesa, è portare la Buona Novella in tutti gli strati dell’umanità, è, col suo influsso, trasformare dal di dentro, rendere nuova l’umanità stessa: “Ecco io faccio nuove tutte le cose” (Ap 21,5). Ma non c’è nuova umanità, se prima non ci sono uomini nuovi, della novità del battesimo e della vita secondo il Vangelo. Lo scopo dell’Evangelizzazione è appunto questo cambiamento interiore e, se occorre tradurlo in una parola, più giusto sarebbe dire che la Chiesa evangelizza allorquando, in virtù della sola potenza divina del Messaggio che essa proclama, cerca di convertire la coscienza personale e insieme collettiva degli uomini, l’attività nella quale essi sono impegnati, la vita e l’ambiente loro propri” (Paolo VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 18). Impegno nobilissimo ed esaltante!

5. Non si può perciò ricordare il giorno della morte del grande Pontefice senza fermarsi a ripensare, almeno un istante, a tutta l’eredità del suo grande spirito.

Il 6 agosto 1978, gli ultimi raggi della festa della Trasfigurazione sono caduti sul cuore del Pastore, che con tutta la sua vita aveva servito la grande causa della trasformazione dell’uomo, nella nostra difficile epoca, e del rinnovamento della Chiesa per tale trasformazione.

Questi raggi sembravano dire: “Bene, servo buono e fedele, sei stato fedele… prendi parte alla gioia del tuo padrone” (Mt 25,21). E Paolo VI non è più tornato alla sua quotidiana fatica, ma ha seguito il Signore che lo chiamava dal monte della Trasfigurazione.

Sunday (September 15): “Your brother was lost and is found”

Daily Reading & Meditation

 Sunday (September 15): “Your brother was lost and is found”
Scripture: Luke 15:1-32

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.2 And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons; 12 and the younger of them said to his father, `Father, give me the share of property that falls to  me.’ And he divided his living between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and   there he squandered his property in  loose living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. 15 So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, `How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced  him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, `Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; 23 and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; 24 for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to make merry.

25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. 27 And he said to him, `Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, `Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I  might make merry with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!’ 31 And he said to him, `Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”

Meditation: If you lost something of great value and importance to you wouldn’t your search for it until you found it? The joy of finding a lost loved one, a precious member of your fold, and your hard earned savings to feed your hungry family are vivid illustrations which Jesus uses to describe what God’s kingdom is like. God the Father does not rejoice in the loss of anyone. He earnestly searches for the lost until they are restored and joyfully united with the whole community of heaven. Jesus told these three parables right after the scribes and Pharisees, the religious elite among the Jews, expressed disapproval with Jesus’ close contact with people of bad reputation.

Sinners were drawing near to hear Jesus
Luke in his Gospel account tells us that “tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus speak” (Luke 15:1). Wealthy tax collectors were despised by the Jews because they often forced the people to pay much more than was due. And sinners, like prostitutes and adulterers, were a scandal to public decency. The scribes and Pharisees took great offense at Jesus because he went out of his way to meet with tax collectors and public sinners and he treated them like they were his friends. The Pharisees had strict regulations to avoid all contact with them, lest they incur ritual defilement. They were not to entrust money to sinners of bad repute, or have any business dealings with them, or trust them with a secret, or entrust orphans to their care, nor accompany them on a journey, nor give their daughter in marriage to any of their sons, nor invite them as guests or be their guests. They were quite shocked to see Jesus speaking with sinners and even going to their homes to eat with them.

Finding and restoring what has been lost
Why were many tax collectors and sinners drawn to Jesus? Jesus offered them forgiveness, mercy, and healing and the promise of full restoration with God the Father and the whole community of heaven – God’s kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy. When the Pharisees began to question Jesus’ motive and practice of associating with sinners of ill-repute, Jesus responds by giving them a three-fold lesson in the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son (Luke 15:4-32).

What is the point of Jesus’ story about a lost sheep and a lost coin? In Jesus’ time shepherds normally counted their sheep at the end of the day to make sure all were accounted for. Since sheep by their very nature are very social, an isolated sheep can quickly become bewildered and even neurotic, and become easy prey for wolves and lions. The shepherd’s grief and anxiety is turned to joy when he finds the lost sheep and restores it to the fold.

The housewife who lost a coin faced something of an economic disaster, since the value of the coin would be equivalent to her husband’s daily wage. What would she say to her husband when he returned home from work? They were poor and would suffer greatly because of the loss. Her grief and anxiety turn to joy when she finds the coin that she had misplaced.

Restoring the lost to the community of faith
Both the shepherd and the housewife “search until what they have lost is found.” Their perseverance pays off. They both instinctively share their joy with the whole community. The poor are particularly good at sharing in one anothers’ sorrows and joys. What was new in Jesus’ teaching was the insistence that lost sinners must be sought out and not merely mourned for their separation from God and the community of the just. God does not rejoice in the loss of anyone, but desires that all be saved and restored to fellowship with him. That is why the whole community of heaven rejoices when one sinner is found and restored to fellowship with God. Seekers of the lost are much needed today. Do you persistently pray and seek after those you know who have lost their way to God?

A broken family and grieving father
Jesus told another parable about a Father who loses his son. This parable is a story in three parts. The first part of the story focuses on the restless behavior of the younger son who wants to leave home to get away from his father. He offends his father by demanding that his share of the father’s inheritance be handed over to him right away, rather than waiting for the time appointed for passing on the inheritance after the the father has either passed away or has retired from the management of the family estate.

The second part of the story focuses on the extravagant and magnanimous character of the father who loves his younger son very dearly and generously gives his undeserving son whatever he asks for. He yields to his son’s ill-timed request for his share of the family’s wealth. The father must have grieved over his son’s decision to leave him and go off to spend his share of the inheritance while he is still young and ill-prepared to manage such a large sum of money without acting foolishly and getting into serious trouble. Instead of resenting his younger son’s disrespectful behavior and rejection, he maintains unbroken love for his son while he longs and searches for any sign of his return.

The third part of the story focuses on the older son who resents his younger brother for running off with his portion of the inheritance and he also resents his father’s outrageous generosity and mercy towards the younger son.

The lost son “came to his senses”
Why did the younger son decide to return to his father’s home? Jesus said “he came to his senses” when disaster followed his reversal of fortune and loose living (Luke 15:17). He had lost all of his inheritance on wasted spending, and was barely surviving on what would have been a most shameful job for Jews – feeding swine which Jewish law regarded as unclean and unfit for eating. And to make matters worse, the younger son was now on the point of starving to death since famine had struck the land. He was desperate to stay alive and avoid a painful slow death. His only hope was that his father might take pity on him and let him return home, no longer as a worthy son, but as a hired servant instead.

The foolish son who had shamefully disinherited his father, knew he no longer deserved to be treated like a son. But he also knew that his father was merciful and kind. The son who was now a poor beggar wanted to return home to beg his father’s forgiveness. Before the son could reach home, the father who had been searching daily for him, ran to meet him as soon as he recognized his presence on the road leading to his home. And then the father does the unthinkable – he treats his rebellious son, not with cold reserve, hot anger, or just condemnation, but with warm tender affection and tears of joy – and then restores him beyond his wildest dreams.

The father’s extravagant love and mercy
What is the main point or focus of the parable of the lost (prodigal) son? Is it the contrast between an obedient and a disobedient son? Or is it a contrast between  the warm reception given by a generous and forgiving father or the cold and aloof reception given by the eldest son who wanted to have nothing to do with his rebellious brother? Jesus contrasts the father’s merciful love with the eldest son’s harsh rejection of his errant brother and his refusal to join his father in welcoming his brother back home.

While the errant son had wasted his father’s money, his father, nonetheless, maintained unbroken love for his son. The son, while he was away, learned a lot about himself. And he realized that his father had given him love which he had not returned. He had yet to learn about the depth of his father’s love for him. His deep humiliation at finding himself obliged to feed on the husks of pigs and his reflection on all he had lost, led to his repentance and decision to declare himself guilty before his father. While he hoped for reconciliation with his father, he could not have imagined a full restoration of relationship. The father did not need to speak words of forgiveness to his son – his actions spoke more loudly and clearly! The beautiful robe, the ring, and the festive banquet symbolize the new life – pure, worthy, and joyful – of each and every person who returns to the merciful embrace of the waiting Father in heaven.

The prodigal could not return to the garden of innocence, but he was welcomed and reinstated as a beloved son. The errant son’s dramatic change from grief and guilt to forgiveness and restoration express in picture-language the resurrection from the dead and a rebirth to new abundant life with God the Father through his beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Contempt and pride lead to division – mercy and forgiveness restores and unites
The parable of the prodigal son also contrasts mercy and forgiveness with their opposites – an unwillingness to forgive and to be reconciled. The father who had been wronged, was forgiving and merciful towards the younger son who recognized his need for forgiveness. But the eldest son, who had not been wronged, was unforgiving and refused to be reconciled with his brother. His refusal to forgive turns into contempt and pride. And his resentment leads to his isolation and estrangement from the community of forgiven sinners.

In this parable Jesus gives us a vivid picture of God the Father and what his character and attitude towards us is like. God is truly generous, kind, and forgiving towards us. He does not lose hope or give up when we stray from him and his commandments. He searches our hearts to show us where true love and mercy can be found and he lead us back to the way of everlasting joy and happiness (Psalm 139:1, 23-24). God the Father always rejoices in searching out those who have strayed and he welcomes them home with open arms. Do you know the joy of your heavenly Father who welcomes you home to his kingdom of everlasting righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit?

“Lord Jesus, may your light dispel the darkness of sin, deception, and ignorance, so that all who are lost or confused may find their way to the Father’s home and be united with him in a bond of peace and friendship. Transform my heart with your merciful love that I may point many others to the good news of pardon, peace, and new life which you offer to all who trust in you, the Good Shepherd and Savior of the world.”

Psalm 51:1-2,10-11,15,17

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;  according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your holy Spirit from me.
15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth your praise.
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Daily Quote from the early church fathersThe Father redeems his son with a kiss, by Peter Chrysologus (400-450 AD)

“‘He fell on his neck and kissed him.’ This is how the father judges and corrects his wayward son and gives him not beatings but kisses. The power of love overlooked the transgressions. The father redeemed the sins of his son by his kiss, and covered them by his embrace, in order not to expose the crimes or humiliate the son. The father so healed the son’s wounds as not to leave a scar or blemish upon him. ‘Blessed are they,’ says Scripture ‘whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered’ (Romans 4:7).” (excerpt from SERMON 3)

[Peter Chrysologus, 400-450 AD, was a renowned preacher and bishop of Ravena in the 5th century]

Meditations may be freely reprinted for non-commercial use, please cite credits: copyright (c) 2019 Servants of the Word, source:  www.dailyscripture.net, author Don Schwager

 

Daily Reflection

The Prodigal Son may be one of the most well known Gospel stories, not only among Christians, but the world in general.  I can attest that this has had a haunting impact on me since the days of my early youth. I can give no apparent explanation why this was true most of my life. I often thought of the characters in the Gospel beginning with my grade school days into my adult years and continually tried to decipher their place in the story.

Like many young adults, I began my own Prodigal journey that lasted for ten years.  This errant journey ended only after a car crash that could have easily taken my life. The character of the wayward son was now looking me in the eyes. This was the starting point of a new life of one who “was lost and had been found.”  After actions I took on my part, I was becoming fully engaged in a growing relationship with God.

As I progressed through my spiritual walk, there were two characters left that were a cause of reflection. They are, of course, the brother and father in the story. During a Lenten Season book study, the leader picked out The Prodigal Son by Henry Nouwen to read.  This was one of those books that as I was reading convicted my heart in many ways. I saw myself too often as the jealous brother in my walk through life. The book also led me to, what for me, was the main lesson from the parable. A father’s love is always there waiting to welcome his children back to the fold. More importantly is that, as a person I need to be a more loving and forgiving person not only with my children but others around me.  I needed to adopt this manner of living more in all areas of my life. Is it easy to do? Certainly not, but when someone who shows the slightest move forward to me to improve relations I should “become filled with compassion and run to meet them.”  Like all things with the Lord, I need only rely on Him for the grace to have a change of heart.

“I know now that true charity consists in bearing all of our neighbors’ defects—not being surprised at their weakness, but edified at their smallest virtues.” — St. Therese of Lisieux