Falling in Love with the Father of Mercies

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Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
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.” So to them Jesus addressed this parable. “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father.
While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly, bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”
Opening Prayer: Father, help me to see you more clearly through your Son’s words. Help me to know you the way he knows you—as the Father who loves me more than I can imagine and who always does everything you can to call me back to you when I have strayed. 
Encountering Christ:

  1. Let Me Tell You about My Father: Jesus would like to show us how much the Father loves us, but he doesn’t have many good examples to draw from. There were many great, virtuous men in Israelite history, but they all had flaws. None would do as an example of the Father’s love because of their shortcomings. How could he make us understand, give us at least a glimmer of the Father’s love? In the end, he invented a father in this parable–a parable we often call “The Prodigal Son” because we identify more with the younger son–but which many theologians and Scripture scholars call “The Father of Mercies” because it is the father in the parable who is the real hero.
  2. Breaking All the Rules: Jesus went out of his way to invent a son who was the lowest of the low. This son insulted his father by asking for the inheritance before his father died—as if to say, “You’re worth more to me dead.” He then sold that same property (which the Jews considered to be entrusted to the family by God)—an unthinkable sin for the Jews. He liquefied his assets and left the Promised Land—another unthinkable sin from the point of view of the Jews. He then proceeded to squander his money on debauchery. Jesus’s listeners must have been standing there in open-mouthed amazement by the time he finished describing what the son did. They would never dream that someone could commit so many unthinkable sins so fast. The crowning moment? The son ended up feeding pigs—another unthinkable sin for the Jews. He had sunk as low as was possible in Jewish eyes.
  3. The Father’s Reaction? Love More!: Instead of being offended by his son’s actions and turning his back on him, this father continued to love him, and do everything he could to welcome his son back. Although he knew where his son was, he didn’t send him money and gifts once things went badly for him. Instead, the father lets his son hit rock bottom in the hope that he would come to his senses—and he did! We know the father was constantly thinking of the son because he saw him while he was still far away—he must have been watching every day, hoping for his return. He cut off the son’s apology; it wasn’t important to him. Instead, he threw a feast. This is not a parable that tells us how to raise teenagers. It is a parable that tells us about our relationship with the eternal Father. When we insult him in the worst ways, he takes it. When we use his gifts to do terrible things, he allows it. When we return, sometimes more for our own well-being than for love of him, he accepts us back—not as servants, but as sons and daughters! His reaction to our sinfulness is not anger—it’s to love more. 

Conversing with Christ: Jesus, too often I look at you and your Father as being like me—proud, unforgiving, more concerned with myself than with the good of others. You help me to see that your Father is not like that. Instead of putting limits on his love–as I do–he lets his love flow out more generously when he encounters a sinner like me. 
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will look for a relationship where I have limited my love and find a way to love more.
For Further Reflection: A Father Who Keeps His Promises: God’s Covenant Love in Scripture by Scott Hahn.
Father James Swanson is from Miles City, Montana, joined the Legionaries of Christ in 1983, and currently works in Atlanta, Georgia. He enjoys books, craft beers, and extreme birding.

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