The wildness – and wideness – of God’s love and mercy

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe, Week XXIV-C, 15 September 2019

Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14 ><)))*> 1Timothy 1:12-17 ><)))*> Luke 15:1-32

Camp John Hay, Baguio City, 23 August 2019.

Today we conclude the series of “table talks” by Jesus with three parables narrated while dining; but, unlike the other Sunday when he was with prominent people, this time we find the Lord among the notorious ones of his time.

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.”

Luke 15:1-2

It is the perfect setting where Jesus bared what we may call as “the wildness and wideness” of God’s love and mercy for everyone, especially the lost and rejected. This explains why Luke 15:1-32 is the “heart” of the third gospel also known as the Gospel of Divine Mercy. So, please bear with me reflecting today’s long but lovely gospel.

The first two parables are about things – a sheep and a coin – that were lost and later found. There is nothing extraordinary about losing things that we also experience today. But, in narrating these parables, Jesus ended both with a saying to explain their meanings and significance to introduce the third parable of the lost son.

“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.”

“In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Luke 15: 7, 10
Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, Atok, Benguet, 01 September 2019.

For the past two Sundays, we have been reflecting about the importance of our personhood, of how God comes first to our very persons, of the need for us to be true and humble because God meets us right in our weaknesses and sinfulness. Jesus warned us the other Sunday that “for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk.14:11). As they say, bloom wherever you are planted for God’s grace is more than enough for each one of us!

Such is God’s love us that Jesus demands total faith in him that “if anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Lk.14: 26). In our lives as his disciples, there would be countless times when no explanations, no reasons are enough why we choose to love and forgive, to be kind and understanding except the very person of Jesus Christ. That is what we call as communion, oneness with the Lord, of always preferring Jesus above anyone and anything!

This is the very reason why the Pharisees and scribes were complaining against him: the tax collectors and sinners were turning to Jesus and not to the Laws they represent! And that continues to happen in our time when some people insist more on religion and vocation, roles and rituals, totally forgetting and even disregarding the very person of God who calls us to himself in Christ!

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt (c.1661-1669). From Google.

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.”

Luke 15:11-13

Feel the solemnity of Jesus in introducing this parable, shifting from lost sheep and lost coin to lost son, from things to persons because the elder son is also lost. It is the father who eventually restored the lost personhood of the two sons when he lavished them with his love and mercy towards the end of the story. And that is why this parable is so lovely as it reminds us of how unconsciously we are “dumping” our own personhood despite our bloated egos. Slowly we are becoming robots or worst, even zombies without feelings and personal relations with others and with one’s self.

Just like the two sons in our parable who both define sonship in terms of servile obligations that is utilitarian and contractual in relationships, not as a family.

The Prodigal Son by John Macallan Swan, 1888. From Google.

Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here I am, 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.”

He (elder son) 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 slaughtered the fattened calf.”

Luke 15:17-19, 29-30

The prodigal son remembered his father when he was starving, thinking more of the food he could have if he returns home as a servant, not as a son. See how in the midst of sin, he never thought of his father as his parent, of himself as a son. He was convinced that the path to reconciliation with his father was becoming a hired worker, forgetting the very fact he is the youngest son.

The same is true with the elder son who refused to join the celebration when his brother had returned home, feeling so bad that his long years of service to his father deserve him a reward. In a sense, he is worst than the prodigal son: no father, no brother – just himself alone!

Both sons have a slanted view of their father, a very truncated one that is self-isolating, very constricting like the Pharisees and scribes who have forgotten their being persons, of being interrelated with one another in God. Very much like us today that slowly as the ties that bind us as family and friends are slowly being severed by so many things, we also start to lose many of our values like “malasakit” or concern for one another.

The father redefined their – and ours, too – relationships as family that lead to joy and celebration.

He (father) said to him, “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”

Luke 15:31-32
Santorini. Photo by Dra. Mai Dela Pena, 2016.

Today, Jesus reminds us, and assures us too that no matter what happens with us, we will always be his brothers and sisters, beloved and forgiven children of the Father.

We call and relate with God as Father because as his children, he is our giver and keeper of life.

And should this life get lost, God as our Father, can also be so “prodigal” to “wastefully” love us and bring back this life to us for we are more valuable than anything else in this universe. That’s how wild and wide is his love and mercy. Amen.

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