24th Sunday Cycle C
11 September 2016
Deacon Les Ruhrmund
When I first looked,about a week ago, at the Gospel reading for this weekend I was a little surprised and also a little shaken. Surprised because I preached on the parable of the Prodigal Son six months ago during Lent and shaken because this parable had been one of the prevailing themes during my retreat, 3 weeks ago, at St Beuno’s in Wales and I knew I couldn’t prepare a homily without being influenced by some of my reflections and I wasn’t sure whether these would be meaningful to anyone else. The retreat was 8 days of silence under the guidance of a spiritual director with who I met for half an hour each day and it was a wonderful experience.
In telling the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus was trying to do the impossible. He was trying to explain and describe in human terms, the unfathomable love of God the Father. And while we may be able to intellectually understand the concept of this absolute love, this understanding in itself doesn’t necessarily bring comfort or joy. Joyfulness comes when we can feel it; when we can understand that love in terms of our own human emotional experience of love. It’s a little like having an intellectual understanding of what is rain that really only becomes meaningful once we’ve got wet. Feeling and understanding the love of God the Father can be difficult. The whole notion of a father’s love is difficult for some people. We haven’t all had a loving, compassionate and understanding father as a reference and our notion of the love of God the Father may be inhibited by our life experiences of ourown fathers.
And the same is true of love. Many of our experiences of love come with unhappy baggage: hurt, unfulfilled expectations, disappointments and regrets. Many of our relationships, even our deepest relationships, are built on some kind of reciprocity; finding a balance between give and take. The unconditional love of God the Father is very different from most of our experiences of ‘father’ and of love.
To ‘feel’ the love of God the Father I think it helps to find a frame of reference within our own life experience that expresses that all-giving, all-forgiving love. It may be the love that we feel for a child or a baby; it could be a niece or a nephew or even an unknown child. The picture showing a small boy lying face down in the sand on a Turkish beach that flooded the media this time last year evoked huge outrage but perhaps also for a moment we experienced that love, that desire to comfort, hold and heal, that we can’t explain. I have found that praying to God the Father wrapped in my experience of love as a grandfather has brought me to a new understanding and experience of God’s love for me.Perhaps you may like to think of a relationship that brings you great joy and approach God in that understanding of the Father’s love.
In the parable, in describing the actions of the prodigal son and his experiences after he left his father, Jesus is drawing a picture of some of the many temptations to sin that we experience in life and to which we so easily succumb. His audience would have been shocked and offended that Jesus could even suggest such behaviour. The young man’s actions in their human frame of reference and judgement were unimaginably immoral and unforgivable.
But the father loved his boy and waited, day in and day out for him to come back. In one of myreflections, father and son see each other from afar and cannot believe their eyes. They run to each other and the boy in tears tries to tell his Dad that he’s sorry but his father just hugs him tightly and says over and over again “No words, no words, my child. I’m just so happy that you’re back.” Perhaps as you imagine this scene you too can feel the call from the Father to run into his arms.
In another reflection, I found myself on the road with the young son returning home. His heart is heavy with shame and he’s uncertain of his father’s response. When he sees his father waving and running towards him he stops and then stumbles forward and his father takes him inhis arms and just holds him. The father is overcome with both joy and a deep sorrow that his child has suffered so much. Perhaps you can identify with the young man’s uncertainty and apprehension in returning to his father and asking for his forgiveness. Fear not, the Father yearns for you day in and day out.
We know from the parable that the older son wasn’t happy when his brother was welcomed home. In a reflection I imagined the prodigal son begging his older brother to forgive him. Initially his appeal was scorned and the younger son was troubled and just couldn’t enjoy the celebration his father was planning for him. And he went again to his older brother and again he told him how sorry he was for leaving; sorry that he’d left him to shoulder the burden of the work alone. And the boys are reconciled and return to the house in high spirits to join the celebration. I know that’s not in Jesus’ telling of the parable but I think there’s a lesson there for us nevertheless. To find the peace and experience the joy and consolation that we seek in returning to the Father, we need also to be reconciled to our brothers and sisters; those who we have hurt through our selfishness, our egos, our stubbornness, our prejudices and our neglect.
Just as we are able to feel and experience God’s love for us through our human love for each other, so it is that we really feel God’s mercy through our mercy for one another.