Ex 32:7-11,13-14; 1Tim 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32
Today’s readings from the Holy Scriptures teach us about the overflowing mercy and forgiveness of God. I will talk also about sin, repentance, Confession and Communion, a courtesy of the prodigal and his father.
We heard from our first reading that while Moses was on Mount Sinai talking to God, the chosen people were acting perversely. They had casted for themselves an image of a calf, worship and sacrifice to it, giving credit to the idol for bringing them out of slavery in the land of Egypt and the Lord became very upset. God was prepared to destroy them all. But Moses implored God to have mercy and forgiveness on the sinful people. Hearing the plea of Moses, God changed His mind and decided not to destroy the people as he had originally planned.
We heard in today’s second reading too how the mercy and forgiveness of God sanctified St. Paul because he had a sincerity of heart. By the mercy of God, St. Paul “formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor and a man of violence,” (v. 12) was made “an example to those who would come to believe in Jesus for eternal life,” (v. 16).
Today’s gospel also speaks of the mercy and forgiveness of God. In this case, three parables are given to declare the magnitude of the mercy of God. These are the parables of the “Lost Sheep” (vv. 3-7), of the “Lost Coin” (vv. 8-10) and of the “Prodigal Son” (vv. 11-32). Many tax collectors and sinners come to Jesus and drew criticism on the part of the Pharisees and the scribes (v. 1). They were grumbling because Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them.
Let us meditate on the parable of the prodigal son. The parable begins with a request. The prodigal son says to his father: “father gave the share of your state that should come to me.” Here we are given our first insight concerning sin. Sin always involves the misuse of something good. For example, sins of the tongue like gossip, slander, swearing and lying all involve the misuse of something good, namely, the God-given gift of speech. Sins of the flesh are committed when people misuse the good gift of sexuality which the Lord intends for marriage only. Notice that in this story the younger son requested the share of the estate that was coming to him. He was not making an improper request. He was not asking for something evil. He was requesting something good which his father was planning to give him anyway. His sin came when he misused the good gift and squandered his inheritance on what the gospel calls “dissolute living.”
Next is what we find interesting in this regard is the fact that he does all this squandering in “a distant land.” I don’t think that was a coincidence. You see when people commit sins that they intend to repent of, they desperately try to run away from the Heavenly Father, just like this boy tried to run away from his father. For us who committed sins, we make all efforts to keep them secret, that nobody knows them. But that’s a very big mistake because eventually all sins catches up with us, as this boy’s sin eventually caught up with him. In the parable we are told that he spends all his money; then a famine breaks out and he finds himself with nothing to eat. So he ends up dining with pigs.
There we have another insight concerning sin: it eventually turns us into slaves. This is something that people with sinful addictions know a great deal about. For example, a recovering alcoholic will tell you that when he started to drink excessively he was acting in total freedom but eventually it came to the point where he could not stop. He had become a slave to his sinful behavior.
Finally, praise God, the prodigal son wakes up and “come to his senses”. He repents but notice that his repentance is rather superficial. He had what the Church would call “imperfect contrition.” Imperfect contrition is when we are sorry for our sins because we fear the consequences, especially hell. Perfect contrition is when we are sorry for the best possible reason because we have offended our Heavenly Father whom we love above all things. But notice that his father still forgives him. The Church teaches that our Heavenly Father will do the same for us. He will forgive us of our serious sins if we go to Confession with at least an imperfect contrition in our hearts.
Once he is forgiven, the prodigal is able to share once again in the family meal. For us that is symbolic of the Eucharist. This is why the Church teaches us that if we have mortal sin we may not receive Communion again until we go to Confession and confess our sins.
The Vatican II document Lumen Gentium # 1 has a beautiful description of sin, that sin is before all else an offense against God and a rupture communion with him. At the same time it damages communion with the Church. For this reason conversion entails both God’s forgiveness and reconciliation with the Church which are expressed and accomplished liturgically by the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. So as we continue with the celebration of the Holy Mass let us pray for those who have fallen away from the grace of God so that Divine mercy and forgiveness may reach out to them before it is too late. May their ears be opened so they will hear that Jesus is welcoming them back home.
See Today’s Readings: Cycle C