I suppose that for the 21st century attention span, this Gospel selection is quite long enough.
But I do miss the nicely paired shorts featuring the lost 100th sheep and the conscientious shepherd who sets off to find it, followed by the the woman who sweeps out her house to find a lost drachma and then hosts a spontaneous party when she does. I increasingly identify with this woman, as my family and coworkers can testify.
This Lukan crescendo of three joyful “lost and found” parables peaks with today’s beautiful story of a loving father and his two sons.
The father Luke paints knows – like so many parents do – the struggle to love and support equally children who differ, by factors of birth order, differences in temperament, interests, capacities, talents, vulnerabilities, peer influence and …so many unknowns.
When pressed, this father had sent the younger son off with his money, likely with some heaviness of heart. And he probably spent many sleepless nights as the weeks turned into months, and a famine fell over the land. There was a chance his beloved son could die.
So when this son returned – hungry and shamed – the father ran to embrace him, and lost no time in calling for a celebration.
For this father, there is no LOSER! TAKER! IDIOT! Here is my son. He ran off, but now he is returned to me, alive, repentant even.
This father figure could not be more counter-cultural to our current society. He is patient and forgiving, understanding and merciful. He models the parent we want to be, and the welcoming community we seek to fashion.
In his preach yesterday Pope Frances stated “The Church does not exist to condemn people but to bring about an encounter with the visceral love of God’s mercy.” Visceral love and mercy, now there’s a witness our world needs!
And this is why the context of these 3 parables is significant: Jesus addressed them to the Pharisees, the murmurers, those who gossiped and complained about the company of sinners he chose to surround himself with. Jesus is that witness the world needed, and needs yet.
The community of believers Luke wrote this story to seem to have developed its own choir of righteous and faithful worshippers. Like the Pharisees, they too wanted to protect their community from the riffraff; the sinners and backsliders they felt didn’t belong.
Were these perhaps thought unworthy of life in the new creation Jesus had announced in his life, and given us in his death and rising?
Alas the editors of the lectionary also trimmed off the prior and pivotal verse immediately prior to what Kathy proclaimed from 2 Corinthians 5:
Verse 14 reads “And this is because the love of Christ overwhelms us when we reflect that if one man died for all, then all people should be dead; and the reason he died was so living people should live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised into life for them.”
Righteous indignation manifests in varied ways, and when I recognize it in myself I am quite horrified. Who or what would it take challenge your desire to welcome or forgive?
For me it was a pastor who egregiously hurt vulnerable people on a daily basis. When I would confront him, he’d laugh and in crude language dismiss them as “ineligible” or “undeserving” to be treated with dignity. It was a difficult situation that had me seething often. My anger was in direct contrast to how much I loved serving that community, and to what our family needed from me. After I few years it became necessary for me to change jobs. My doing so gave our family more peace and a much richer experience of life in that unique and dear community.
Parables give us each a change to reflect on how we assume varied roles in our life, and to see how me might grow.
It is embarrassing to recognize myself in the murmured complaining of the ever righteous Pharisees Jesus addresses in today’s Gospel.
But if we can’t follow and witness to the joy of the Gospel, how will others feel invited to find life in a community of disciples?
Every Lent is a time to push against our limits into God’s mercy. This global year of mercy is a gift of momentum.
Luke gives these murmurers and a wayward son with his inheritance running through his fingers. A young man with his good name and person rolled in the mud, hungry and thirsty until he is caught up in the joyous embrace of a rejoicing father.
To the older son, belligerent and enraged, this generous father says WE MUST CELEBRATE, because he was lost to himself, lost to us, and he is back. The life of each of us is unimaginably precious to God.
At least since Biblical times, it is clear that very many young men and women strain to get out into the world and away from their parents, ready or not. Many eventually sort things out, and make it. But in recent years, and largely due to the increased availability and strength of drugs in the street, huge numbers of these young people are not surviving.
These missing sons and daughters have left holes in the lives of families and communities. Some of them are known to us, as family members, friends or neighbors. Let us pause for a moment to remember these precious daughters and sons, and pray healing for their families…
Many others become statistics of addiction, overdose, violence, or incarceration. It may not seem as if we have power to reverse these rising losses, but I believe that we do. In recent years groups such as Madison Urban Ministry, WISDOM/MOSES, NAMI and others have built strong arguments for greater access to treatment, and restorative justice as alternatives to jail. Momentum is building to return youth to juvenile facilities, reduce or end the use of solitary confinement. With the literal changing of the guard in the WI Dept of Corrections, this is a critical time to heighten community ownership of persons who have come into some form of custody. To claim them as our own, and important to our future.
MOSES is bringing a replica solitary cell to the monastery this spring. Think about taking some time to meditate in that space, in solidarity with persons so completely cut off from human mercy and companionship. While it is here our MOSES cohort will provide opportunities to update Sunday Assembly to help us further engage in the focused efforts on these issues.
NO ONE caught up in the corrections system is without value to our community.
No person, anywhere, is ours to dismiss as unworthy of God’s mercy. We are to forgive, as we have been forgiven.
This Laetare weekend, in the Year of Mercy, and with obvious joy, Francis has invited catholic churches in every diocese to provide round the clock opportunities for people to experience the sacrament of reconciliation…explaining that
“every absolution is, in a certain sense, a jubilee of the heart, that brings joy not only to the faithful and the church, but above all to God.”
Reconciliation as a distinct sacrament is certainly part of the Roman Catholic tradition, but has not been a practice of Holy Wisdom Monastery. I wonder how we as members of this faith community find opportunities to explicitly acknowledge our faults and failures… How do we celebrate forgiveness in our lives? How does any concept of sin fit in your theology?
I am drawn to ponder this as I see how central Francis has made it in his call for renewal in the church.
“The most important thing in the life of every man and every woman is not that they should never fall along the way. The important thing is always to get back up, not to stay on the ground licking your wounds. The Lord of mercy always forgives me; he always offers me the possibility of starting over. He loves me for what I am, he wants to raise me up, and he extends his hand to me. This is one of the tasks of the Church: to help people perceive that there are no situations that they cannot get out of. For as long as we are alive it is always possible to start over, all we have to do is let Jesus embrace us and forgive us.”
Laetare in Latin means rejoice! It is an imperative, invoking light-heartedness, outwardly manifested joy. Dancing joy.
These days our world is full of unexpected outbursts of ego and violence, of stunning conceit – but also unimaginable courage, beauty in nature, and so much great music!. Hold fast to the love we are grounded in, Something new is bound to come of it all.
Let us step into this newness with humility and compassion. Let us follow the joy gifted us by Jesus, and constantly renewed by the Spirit of a creative and merciful God
Merciful God, we pray for those who lead communities of faith throughout the world. May we be one in humility and gratitude for the tremendous reach of your love. May we be one in seeking a future large enough for all your creation. May we be one in love. Let us pray…
Merciful God, we lift up with special tenderness all who have lost a child or other family member to violence or addiction. Heal them and hold them in your heart, Let us pray…
Merciful God, we pray to be reconciled through honest reflection on our own failings, and through the sharing of this Eucharist, let us pray…
For what else?
We entrust these our prayers and the needs of all who may not know to turn to you, O Holy One, in the name of the Creator, Christ, and Sanctifier, Amen.