Let us be truthful. As soon as we hear the first words about the story of the prodigal son, we shut off our spiritual ears and say: “I know that story by heart.”
In our lifetime we heard stories of people who were as bad as the prodigal son and, then, touched by God’s grace returned to Him and became saints.
Here are some of them: St. Paul, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and the list goes on and on.
While it is comforting and reassuring to know that God’s love for us is such that we are guaranteed a safety net of grace were we to stray and become “big time sinners,” it begs the question: “Why is Jesus, today, retelling us the story?”
He already knows that we are so familiar with it …Unless he feels that we really need to take another look at it and see if there is something in it for us, now, in our present-day condition.
Right away we might be forced to notice that, when it comes to the work of grace, the really “smart people” are precisely those with whom we do not associate: “sinners and tax collectors.”
I mean, out of false humility we keep saying that we are sinners; but we think that we are sinners in a different way than atheists, agnostics, criminals, abortionists, sexual deviants, cheaters, pedophiles, and the likes.
In other words, we know that we are not numbered in the reproachable category of tax collectors and sinners.
But, how could we possibly disassociate ourselves from the group of Pharisees and scribes unless we admit that we never considered ourselves better than unquestionably big sinners?
We would not be among the Pharisees and scribes only if we could honestly state we never looked down, or judged, or, worse, condemned those really big, obvious sinners.
My dear friends in Christ let us face it, we are Pharisees and scribes, and we object to the fact that Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them. That’s it.
Actually there is more.
But before we get to that point, let me share with you this much: the Pharisees and scribes are paying Jesus the best compliment ever.
They recognize the fact that Jesus is openly doing the will of the Father who wants no one to perish but all to return to Him and be saved.
Now, here is the shocking good news: for the Bible, the term eating with someone means the decision to establish with that person a bond stronger than the one of flesh and blood.
And, for the Gospels, eating with Jesus is a subtle reference to the Eucharist.
Simply put, the evangelist Luke is telling us that, there have always been strong, vehement objections to Jesus reaching out, directly or through his ministers, to engage as many repentant sinners as possible and sit them around the table of God’s family.
Let me submit this to you: chances are that we might have a list of people that we think should not be sitting at the Eucharist table; and the list is getting longer, and longer…
Canon Law (article 915) mentions that those who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are to be excluded from Holy Communion.
However, our list would get much longer unless we dare to explore the inner recesses of our heart.
Dutifully, (self-righteously too?) we often feel obligated to pray for the conversion of sinners.
Now, since we assume that everything is in order inside our heart, we would never think of placing our name right at the top of the list of sinners in need of conversion!
So we glide right over the second part of this familiar parable.
However, we might be the elder son! We might think and we might act like him! And that would be simply awful, deadly, if a complete change of heart doesn’t follow.
The Father in the parable had a younger son; lost him; and found him again.
But, by choice of the older son, the Father never had him as a son, and his younger brother never had him as a brother!
I served you all these years, please note you are not my father but my master…this son of yours, he is not my brother.
Do we begin to see the silent, deadly danger with which we might be living our “Christian” life?
By not really considering ourselves as sinners, as frail people in constant need of conversion, by choice, we might cut ourselves off from God’s family!
Instead of a Father we would have a master whom we would try to please by slaving away in his fields in the remote possibility that he might give us a little something for a modest party with our friends.
Rather than brothers and sisters, we would have competitors sucking away what we deem due to us from God as reward for our good works!
Deep down, in the secret recesses of the heart, we might be angry and upset because God splurges on sinners and is always too ready to throw an extravagant, endless party upon their return.
We would not feel like dancing and making merry. We would choose to pout and sulk!
If that is our real inner condition, now, not tomorrow, not even in a few hours, we must wise up, change our attitude radically, and be shamefully sorry for refusing to let God be a Father to us; to be the divine Healer of our concealed wounds; to be the Forgiver of our ugly, petty sins.
We must also rediscover and familiarize ourselves with the features of countless brothers and sisters who are less blessed than we are.
Only then can the celebration begin, with our full participation.