God “removes guilt and pardons sin . . .”

Our Lord shows us in today’s Gospel how deep and unfathomable His Father’s love is for all of us, and whatever our sins may be, we will always be forgiven, as long as we just repent and turn back to Him from our sinful ways. God’s love is deeper than that of any human father. For who is the father who would allow his own son to suffer and die for the sake of sinners?
Love isn’t a human commodity even when we humans act out of love; love is a divine gift. None of us deserves God’s forgiveness and acceptance. Nevertheless God offers them without strings. Today’s first reading, from the prophet Micah, makes that abundantly clear. God “removes guilt and pardons sin . . . does not persist in anger but delights rather in clemency . . . treading underfoot our guilt”. And Jesus, in the gospel, tells a story that acts out that divine love in terms impossible to miss. What we have to do is to drop our concerns for deservedness and accept what God freely offers.
Look at the negative side of the transaction in today’s Gospel. As soon as I say (or think) “It’s not fair”, where’s my focus? Why, it’s on me, ME! God is not focused on God’s self, God is focused instead on self-giving. God is self-giving . How can I be, in any sense, true to the image in which I am made, the image and likeness of God, when I am concerned first about me? About getting my fair share?

The prodigal could not return to the garden of innocence, but he was welcomed and reinstated as a son. The errant son’s dramatic change from grief and guilt to forgiveness and restoration express in picture-language the resurrection from the dead, a rebirth to new life from spiritual death. The parable also contrasts mercy and its opposite – unforgiveness. The father who had been wronged, was forgiving. But the eldest son, who had not been wronged, was unforgiving. His unforgiveness turns into contempt and pride. And his resentment leads to his isolation and estrangement from the community of forgiven sinners. When we’re truly set free from our prison of guilt, however, not everyone rejoices. People want to put us back into our prison cell. When Jesus removes and tramples our guilt, we are free indeed! Don’t pay attention to what others think. Instead, focus on what Jesus thinks. We must “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus”. If He is for us, who can be against us? If Jesus alone rejoices to see us free from guilt, then our opponents are outnumbered. “So stand firm, and do not take on yourselves the yoke of slavery” and guilt “a second time”.

In this parable Jesus gives a vivid picture of God and what God is like. God is truly kinder than us. He does not lose hope or give up when we stray. He rejoices in finding the lost and in welcoming them home. The prodigal 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 anyone who returns to God.

Lord Jesus, You raised us to Your glory and kingship by inviting us to Your table even in our sinfulness. Because You are Love, You took a big gamble not only in becoming a man, but in offering us a place in Your divinity. Your mercy is endless, so please grant us the grace of understanding to be able to imitate You. Amen.


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