Today’s gospel passage recounts the familiar story of “The Prodigal Son” and the Lenten “Good News” is not at all lost on us, his prodigal kids. But I would note first that Jesus tells the story in reaction and response to the accusation that “The man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” In other words, Jesus’ dining with those judged to be sinners by the populace is to be equated with the father who rejoiced because “this son of mine was lost and has been found.” So, we, who approach the throne of mercy during Lent, or in any confession of sin with true purpose of amendment, stand to be received by not only a Heavenly Father who will forgive us, but one who will also rejoice at the very sight of us. Does good news ever get better than that?
So often in confession I encounter penitents who might believe that God has forgiven them, but find it so hard to forgive themselves. FORGIVE is what God does. FORGIVE is also what we should do. I believe that the key to forgiving ourselves is in reviewing the true nature of forgiveness; and that is—the decision “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” to MOVE ON. That is, to move on in God’s transformative grace! Those who forgive themselves and move on with their lives as god-given vocations find that they have “a new attitude”—they experience a new freedom that allows them to know joy again and to love again. People who forgive themselves, because God has indeed absolved them of their sins, are people who are once again able to realize their God-given skills, talents, and gifts, to be put in service of God’s kingdom.
We all love the embrace of the forgiving and rejoicing father of his son “who was thought dead, but was found alive.” But, what about the older son? He is an equally important player in the story. He felt hurt by his brother’s behavior and by his father’s evident approval (if not downright celebration) of his younger brother. We see here that to stay in a state of anger and disappointment causes increased and sustained pain and misery. The father, on the other hand, points to the way of reconciliation and healing—of true forgiveness with the end of rising above the problems and opening the door to moving forward in life. Furthermore, did the father’s actions mean that he approved of what his youngest son had done? To have thrown a party because the son returned alive, doesn’t mean that he didn’t lock up his laptop and take away the keys to the car the next day…as it were.
It seems to me that if we truly realized the power that forgiveness has, we would use that power much more frequently and we would realize and understand why Jesus modeled it (“Father, forgive them”), and taught it with such fervor.