The Lord gives us, through his Word for this fourth Sunday, to meditate on the gratuitousness of God’s mercy which invites us to feast. Saint Paul sets the tone for us: “Christ has forgiven me” and this is a source of joy for him, because he recognizes himself as loved, even though he did not deserve it. « You did not choose me, but I chose you… » However, our relationship is often troubled by sin and this prevents us from seeing the true image of this Father who loves us despite our infidelities. Let us meditate on these two aspects together: the crisis of relationships and the discovery of God’s mercy as the source of our true joy.
First track: the relationship crisis.
A man had two sons.
We have meditated on this parable many times, focusing our attention on the first son, the youngest and contemplating his “conversion”. But I think Jesus wants to tell us more: he is not just describing the contrition of a sinner. If that were the case, it would not have scandalized the Pharisees who are accustomed to the Bible which speaks about God who forgives a repentant sinner. We have to go even further. Let’s go!
– The first son = the youngest.
He does not have the true image of his Father. He « kills » him because
Can we really need to talk about conversion? See that he continues even there only to have his stomach as his « god »: he would have liked to fill his stomach… His return home is considered from this same perspective : to find something to eat like the workers. This pushes him to prepare something that could move his father. I wonder if this is not my case! When I go to confession, for example, not because I am moved by the mercy of God, but because I wonder what those who will see me at mass without being able to go communion will think…
The hunger he feels has nothing to do with radical repentance. He still searches in material goods, he looks towards the carobs that the pigs are eating: indeed, « he would have liked to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything ». The hunger he feels is therefore a hunger linked to the relationship. Because nothing prevented him from serving himself in the trough of the pigs, the surveillance was not strict, I think! His suffering comes from the fact that no one was caring about him, no one helped him to satisfy his hunger. It was then that he thought of his father. His chance is there, the victory is almost acquired. The relationship has not yet been renewed, but already, through his imagination, he is talking to his father. His reasoning is simple: The workers have bread because they deserve it by their work. Not having been able to find the right relationship that would have attracted the attention of his father, he decides to give up his status as a son and to present himself as a worker. He seeks to attract the love of his father, at least to deserve it now.
– The eldest son was in the fields.
He is no different from the cadet. He is also a prisoner of slavery. The scene takes place on the evening of the return of the prodigal son. The eldest son returned from his daily work, when « he heard the music and the dances ». The index is striking. Here is a man who never wanted to be attentive to his slightest desires, even the most legitimate. He does not want to come in to dance. Let us consider how he didn’t even go out, didn’t take a break. You should have said he was diligent. He built himself an extremely rigid code of life, to which he had to comply absolutely. The worst is that he did it believing to please his father. It is obvious that in such living conditions, anger has been brewing in his heart for a long time and is only looking for an opportunity to express itself. This evening, the meeting is too brutal, he explodes: “you never gave me a kid to celebrate with my friends”. Is the question really about the kid ? Probably not. They are eating more than a kid! It’s his friends he’s missing, friends to party with. Does he have any? A slave to his work, he has neglected all relationships. He suffers from it and now blames his father for whom he works. In the prison they have built for themselves, the two brothers share the same fantasy. The youngest sees the workers eating as they want, the eldest sees the youngest celebrating. But none of them is considering the free love of a caring father running to meet them.
Second path: the gratuitousness of God’s mercy who invites us to joy.
For both, the attitude of the Father is indeed identical. He goes out. He comes out of his house and goes towards them. He runs towards the youngest, he begs the eldest. He wants them to enter into his joy. Let us remember that the Gospel speaks to us of two other parables. Why read together the story of the lost sheep, the lost drachma, and that of the prodigal son? What do a sheep, a coin and a young fool have in common? Nothing. The sheep is without intelligence, like the young man, but it has not sinned; the young man was lost, but the silver coin does not lose itself, it is we who lose it. With these parables, Jesus does not seek to draw attention to the sinner’s desire for conversion, but to God’s desire to have mercy on us. In the three parables, God leaves everything to run in search of the one he has lost. God has the desire to save us, he has the initiative, he wants it and he does it.
It is this image that we have of the prodigal father. Indeed, “as he was still far…. “: the son has not yet opened his mouth. We have a really unusual gesture: a superior running to meet a subordinate, especially when the latter has behaved indecently. He does not want to know first of all if his son will show real contrition, if he has planned steps to contrition or to expiate his fault,… we are faced with infinite gratuity. The father will do the same for the eldest: he goes out, he begs him… What do we think, when we have to reconcile ourselves with others? « They must acknowledge their wrong…they must ask my forgiveness…they must guarantee that they will not do it once again, …they must give me a sign, something as a sign of reparation… »: what will we not have? not heard ?
Today, Jesus gives us a lesson: What does it mean to be sons/daughters? It is not primarily the fact of deserving it, of having such and such an attitude towards our parents, but of being ALL loved by them, regardless of our dignity or unworthiness.
We understand then why sinners used to running after Jesus who revealed such a God to them. We understand the declaration of Saint Paul: « Christ has forgiven me », he exclaims. God is our Father, and he loves us all, the good ones as well as the wicked, those who have done wrong as well as those who « do not blame themselves for anything » (if there really are any!) and who side with the offended. But are we brothers?
Are we ready to enter the party with the eldest and the whole family ? Are we ready to share the joy with others, like the poor woman who does not have 100 sheep, but only 10 coins? And if that were not the case, what do we really know of the Good News that speaks to us of a God whose joy is to see us ALL gathered around him, celebrating?