God's Limitless Mercy by Rev. Paul deLadurantaye
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
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 he addressed this parable. "What man among you have a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, 'Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.
"Or what woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it? And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, 'Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.' In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
Then he said, " 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 not we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.'"
In all of the readings for this Sunday’s Mass, the one single point we are invited to meditate upon is the limitless mercy and compassion of God. This is a God who forgives and takes delight in the conversion of sinners. In the first reading, Moses intercedes on behalf of the people of Israel, and the Lord relents of the punishment He threatened to inflict upon them. St. Paul writing to Timothy in the second reading, says, “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Finally, in the Gospel Jesus tells three parables that illustrate the lengths to which God goes in order to seek out and save what was lost.
The central figure in this week’s Gospel is God Himself. He is the Good Shepherd who goes out in search of the lost sheep. He is represented as a woman who, having lost a coin, sweeps out the whole house and is not satisfied until she finds it again. He is portrayed as the loving father who goes out every day to await the return of his prodigal son. In all these instances, we see the infinite love God has for His people who so often turn away from Him and, by giving in to temptation, squander the inheritance we have received.
Nowhere is God’s mercy and love more clearly revealed than in the parable of the prodigal son. This is essentially a story of conversion, one that matches our own lives in many ways. First, the younger son demands his share of the estate; he wants to leave his father’s home and live on his own, unmindful of the love his father has shown him. Are there not times in our own lives when we try to live apart from God? Here is the essence of sin: It consists in rebellion against God, or at least in indifference or forgetfulness of Him and His care. Yet whenever we try to put God out of our lives, we end up like the prodigal son: alone, impoverished and in despair.
It is at this point that the younger son’s life begins to change. “Coming to his senses at last,” the son begins to reflect on what he had in his father’s house and what he has now lost through his sinful actions. The memory of his father’s love and the good things he enjoyed at home, together with the recognition of the present state of unhappiness, provides the impetus to return home. This is a decision the son alone can make; although his father loves him and waits each day to catch a glimpse of him, the father does not force his son to come back. Conversion is always a free choice you and I must make; God continually invites us to return to His friendship and grace, but He will not force us to do anything we are unwilling to do. Like the prodigal son, each of us must make that decision for ourselves.
What do we find when we return to God? Like the prodigal son, we find a father who greets us and welcomes us home without dwelling on the past. We find a father who wants to restore our lost dignity, symbolized in the parable by “the finest robe,” the “ring on his finger and shoes on his feet.” We find a father whose love is able to reach down to every human misery, and above all, to every form of moral misery, to sin. When this happens, the person who receives God’s mercy “is found” and restored to value; he “was dead, and has come back to life.” Abraham Lincoln was once asked how he would treat the defeated Confederates when they asked to rejoin the Union after the Civil War had ended. The questioner expected that Lincoln would seek revenge, but he answered, “I will treat them as if they had never been away.” It is the greatness of the love of God that He treats us like that.
We are all sinners to a greater or lesser degree. But no sinner will ever be lost because of his sins. Sinners are lost only because they will not trust and believe in God’s mercy and turn to Him in the sacrament of penance to ask for pardon. Each day, the Lord searches for us and calls us to return to our Father’s house. Listen to that call and turn to God today with a truly contrite heart. God will do the rest.
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