They say that life is full of surprises! I never dare to contest that for a single second! Yes! Life is surely full of surprises! Life experiences constantly bear witness to this.
Some time ago I had an experience which made me wonder how things in life change with a flick of a finger. I remember that once I had to wake up to celebrate the Eucharist in the early hours of the day. Normally I would do that with great ease. The alarm clock would be diligently prepared from the night before and, thank God, everything would fall into place! The alarm clock would ring at the set time and another day would simply fit nicely within the rat race routine.
However, that morning things turned out very differently! Something happened the night before that distracted my attention. I went to sleep as usual with the hope that the following day I would wake up at the usual time in order to prepare myself to celebrate the Mass. Unfortunately, I got distracted and the alarm clock was not set at all! So, it happened that I overslept and woken up by a phone call that I received at the usual time when I normally would finish the Mass. You can imagine how bad I felt about this fault! A priest who negates his very little congregation a Mass is not a joke. No matter how much he apologizes himself afterwards!
Having said that, I perfectly remember a message a caring person sent me as soon as she found out what did happen to me. Thank God this person knows me well because we had time to talk and share some meaningful reflections of what it means to live humanly and, most of all, Christianly. In her short text message on my cell phone she simply asked me: Father, are you okay? That simple question really touched my wounded heart! In similar situations I would expect a harsh rebuke due to my negligent attitude. And yet, this person of God, simply asked the million dollar question: “Father, are you okay?”
Upon reflecting on this story I could see the way God behaves with us when we all sin. The first thing we do when we realize that we have hurt the Lord is to flee from His presence. We feel ashamed that we did what we did or said what we said. Instead we try to hide to cover our shame. But God, as a loving Father, does not snatch the opportunity to give us a harsh rebuke to make sure that we do not commit that sin once again. Not at all! Instead, God takes the time to meet us in order to ask us one simple question: My son, my daughter, are you okay?
As our loving God and Father, He knows everything about us. He knows that we are not okay when we choose to take the opposite direction that leads us away from Him. Hence, that is why he asks us, personally: My son, my daughter, are you okay? The Holy Spirit, in my heart, has been constantly and silently teaching me that this is the way God acts with us! When I recently opened the Bible to see if what I was reflecting and feeling inside me fully accorded with God’s way of doing things I was really relieved! Yes! This is the manner God behaves with us when we sin by gently whispering to us in our spirit’s ears: My son, my daughter, are you okay?
A classic example is surely that of the parable of the Merciful Father which we find in Luke 15. The more I read it with this burning zeal to notice God’s caring love for you and me when we sin, the more I become increasingly aware what a loving Father you and I really have! And how much we are called to love Him with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength (Mark 12:30) above everyone and everything!
We know the kind of life this wayward son led. The first mistake he did was to squander his property in loose living (Luke 15:13). A loose spirit is always the motivating force for a loose soul. So he ended up doing all sort of foolish things. He had spent everything (Luke 15:14). Just imagine the feeling of not having anything, without anything that might give you a sense of security! How terrible that must have been! Not only, but to add insult to injury, a great famine arose in that country (Luke 15:14). How awful that must have been for this poor son! Moreover, his being in want (Luke 15:14) brought him into a position of practically doing all sorts of things to survive, including letting one of the citizens of that country sending him into his fields to feed swine (Luke 15:15). An utterly disgusting thing to do for a Jew since according to Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 swines are completely deemed as impure animals. Now that he was living with the swines by feeding them, and to make things much worse, consuming what they did consume, according to the Jewish mentality this son was absolutely unclean. He made himself a sheer mess! The saddest thing was that no one gave him anything (Luke 15:16), meaning no one really cared about coming to his rescue! They let him be destroyed in his situation by being indifferent to him!
After the son’s examination of conscience, which we encounter from verses 17 to 19, the biblical text then passes on to explain to us the caring attitude of the Father. After that the son came to himself (Luke 15:17) and acted on his newly acquired awareness of his situation by by the fact that he arose and came to his father (Luke 15:20), the latter saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him (Luke 15:20). But who on earth would do such a thing if not a caring parent who, in front of his son’s mess, would lovingly ask him: My son, are you okay?
In Greek, among the list of verbs that all demonstrate care, we have two in particular which identify the situation of the son and orient a suitable action of care: εἶδεν (eiden) which comes from the verb ὁράω (horaóto), which means I see, look upon, experience, perceive, discern, beware.) and σπλαγχνίζομαι (splagchnizomai), which means to be moved in the inward parts, i.e. to feel compassion.
Does not our Father in Heaven experience our pain when we deny him? Is He now not aware of our loss of peace and order when we foolishly give him our back? Does He not know of our shame and confusion? Does He not perceive our disorientation? And what do you think a loving Father would do at this sorry state of his own son and daughter? He is moved in the inwards parts of His being because He feels compassion for his lost child. The crowning of his interior action, which at first looks as if it is happening at a distance (Luke 15:20), becomes the following caring question: Where are you? (Gen 3:9). Even if the Lord was aware of the sinful couple’s endeavor of hiding themselves from Him due to their sin, as a loving Father He couldn’t not make his presence felt amongst Adam and Eve. He wanted to show them the healing loving care of His presence by simply asking that penetrating question: Are you okay?
This simple reflection leads me to conclude with Fr Gerard’s Hughes insight, as portrayed in his book God of surprises, in page 60: “God is calling us to a radical conversion and to a depth of trust in him which will allow God’s power to be released in our weakness, God’s wisdom to be revealed in our bewilderment, God’s truth to break through our disillusion.”
And all this complexity is just couched into this elementary question: My child, are you okay? … And what do you think that confounded son and daughter would reply in front of such gentle care? I trust in thee, O Lord, I say, “Thou art my God.” (Psalm 31:14).