Fourth Sunday of Lent C
when the priest read the parable of the prodigal son.
As the clergyman preached on the passage,
vividly describing the scene where the father runs out
to meet his rebellious son, he asked,
“Now, throwing wide his arms, what did that man say?”
Which is when the boy leaned over to his dad
and whispered, “You’re grounded!”
Imagine what it was like for that runaway when he got home.
He’d long been rehearsing what he’d say to his father.
His many—shall we say—“indiscretions”
couldn’t have been a complete secret in the neighborhood.
If nothing else, people knew how
he’d scorned his father and his whole family
when requesting his inheritance early—
as if saying to his old man, “I kind of wish you were dead.”
Being accepted back as a servant
wasn’t just the best he could hope for;
it’s probably what he really wanted.
“Just let me in the back door
and give me a place among the help.
This has already been humiliating enough for all of us,
so I’d prefer to keep out of the spotlight.”
But there will be no quiet reentry for this young man.
There’s the fresh robe, the shiny ring, the new pair of sandals.
And then there’s the big party—food, music, dancing.
we know that there ought to be a punishment that fits the crime.
It’s one of the ways we can make amends,
can set the record straight.
Restitution—even if only symbolic—
is a rightful part of the process of reconciliation.
Doing penance for sin opens us up
to receiving pardon and amending our life.
A parable is just that—a parable.
No one of them ever claims to tell the entire story.
And here’s a possible hole
in the parable of the prodigal son.
Yes, it provides us with an amazing window
onto the superabundant mercy of God.
If you thought the younger son was extravagant
in liberally wasting his fortune,
he will not be outdone by his dad
who lavishes gifts on the one he feared was lost forever.
As Jesus assures,
our Father in heaven responds likewise
whenever any of his wayward children repent.
But how is a sinner to react?
How are we supposed to take such a warm welcome
after wandering so far from home?
Many times, when hearing confessions,
I come across people who just can’t seem
to shake their shame and guilt.
Whether their falls and failures are recent or long past,
they keep on kicking themselves.
They’ve come to ask their Father’s forgiveness…
…but they haven’t yet been able to forgive themselves.
There can be many different reasons for this.
Sometimes we fail to forgive ourselves
because we want to hang on to our sins:
we rather enjoyed them,
and still enjoy reliving them in our minds.
This, of course, reveals a lack of real repentance.
You haven’t made a fresh start,
and so your sin remains.
Sometimes we don’t forgive ourselves
because we haven’t yet been forgiven
by other people we’ve hurt.
We’ve made honest attempts to right the wrong,
but they’ve refused to reconcile.
Prayer is the answer here—
to intercede for them
(Jesus, after all, told us to pray for our enemies)
and to pray that we don’t become bitter.
In some cases, it may be necessary to love them from a distance.
More often then not, though, when we can’t forgive ourselves,
the roots run much deeper.
Sin leaves painful wounds in our hearts.
It leaves us feeling unlovable—
feeling rather unworthy of God’s love.
Yet as the parable of the prodigal son
is meant to make abundantly clear:
the Father doesn’t love us because we’re good;
he loves us because we’re his.
To be unforgiving with myself reveals
that I don’t see myself as I truly am.
It means I’m believing a lie.
Over the years, I’ve come to realize that discouragement
is one of the enemy’s most powerful weapons.
If he can get me down,
then he wants to keep me there—
wallowing in the pig pen, unable to fully walk away from it.
Here’s what every sinner must always remember:
you are not your sins.
Your sins don’t define you.
Your true worth, after all, doesn’t rest in you;
it rests in God.
It’s rather transformative to consider how God looks upon you,
and to ask him for the grace
to see yourself in the very same light.
God loves you as you are—
even when he’s calling you to make some serious changes.
And so you need to love the person you see in the mirror.
And since forgiveness is an awfully big part of love,
you need to forgive yourself.
The Lord’s forgiveness, unfortunately, doesn’t always mean
that the pain caused by sin will be taken away.
But then again, forgiveness isn’t a feeling.
And forgiveness isn’t forgetting, either—
sure, for God it is, but generally, not for us.
Attempting to suppress our past—
as if it weren’t real, as if it didn’t happen—
is pretty unhealthy business.
But when painful memories of sin do return,
we don’t have to allow them to haunt us,
holding us captive all over again;
instead, we ought to rejoice,
knowing that it’s precisely in the face of these
that God freely chooses to show us nothing other
than the most tender mercy.
You’ve heard of being more Catholic than the Pope?
Well, to ask God for forgiveness without forgiving oneself
is to claim to have a higher standard for mercy than God does.
Even more tragically:
since the essence of forgiveness
is being relieved of the claim against you,
to insist on beating oneself up after God has absolved you
is actually to refuse his gift.
The parable of the prodigal son, then,
doesn’t only speak to us of God’s great mercy;
it gives us a lesson in how to accept it.
We need to enter into our Father’s joy.
God’s will for his children is not bondage, but liberation.
Christ lived, Christ died, and Christ rose again to set us free!
Don’t block the Lord’s forgiveness by failing to forgive yourself.
It’s his delight to heal you and lead you home!
When the Father offers you his loving pardon,
be sure to also accept his gifts of freedom and peace.
be sure to also accept his gifts of freedom and peace.