Regarding the handling of losses, there is a great difference between God and us.
Personally, my heart breaks whenever I see on TV the anguished faces of those struck suddenly by natural calamities, or fire. Perhaps clenching a few pictures in their hands, they face the camera and say something like: “We lost everything. This is all we have left of our life.”
What we feel in similar circumstances is compounded by our ability to do very little to help them. We feel almost as powerless as when we are confronted with a mother who has just lost her child. We share in her loss as much as it is humanly possible, knowing that it is so little.
At the personal level, a loss changes one’s life abruptly and, often, for a prolonged period. As a community, there is also a sudden change, an alteration, a palpable sense of a void in the group; it is a feeling generated by human solidarity. Of course, the bigger the loss, the sharper the pain one feels and the more marked the change in one’s routine activities because the mind and the heart keep dwelling on what is lost.
Jesus, God made flesh in our midst, teachs us also how to handle our losses at the personal as well as at the community levels.
The difference between God and us is precisely in the “irrational” reaction displayed by God vis-à-vis our “reasonable,” expected, normal way of dealing with a loss.
For God all losses are massive, because his losses are only measured in real people who have all been redeemed by the Blood of his Son Jesus.
Your average shepherd, most likely would take the loss of a sheep, rather than compound the loss by risking losing several more were he to leave 99 of them alone in the desert to search for the lost one.
Most women would trace their steps as far back as they can remember looking for a lost silver Kennedy half dollar. But, if fruitless, the search would end rather quickly. No big deal. None of them would throw a party that would certainly cost more than the lost silver coin.
For God, whenever and for as long as we stray from home or are lost, we are worth a risky, prolonged, irrational search.
Look at the way the Father behaves since he loses his younger son. He splits his estate and his possessions in two equal parts and hands to his misguided son exactly half of it even though this son could not wait for his old man to be dead to get it. From the time the son leaves home, every single day, Dad’s mind and heart are occupied by the thought of his return. He keeps looking, from morning to sunset, for him to appear at the distant horizon. And when, finally, he sees him, he tosses aside his dignity to run towards the newly found son and refuses to listen to his well-rehearsed apology. Irrationally, he goes wild with joy and gives him even the ring of ownership (like a platinum credit card) and kills the fatted calf, the only fatted calf on the farm.
In some societies, the wayward son would have been promptly executed upon his return home.
So, why is Jesus stressing for us the Father’s irrational conduct and boundless compassion? Because, to God, we are all lost. This is the stark, tragic truth.
Obviously, we would be lost if we walked away from home, and we squandered God’s grace by yielding to sin. We would be lost if we were the scum of society like those tax collectors, public sinners, and prostitutes with whom Jesus chose to eat and celebrate. Yes, we would be lost, but only until we would begin to miss the warmth of familiar places and our Father’s love; we would then come to our senses and head for home.
The tragedy for God and for our family, the Church, is for their self-righteous sons and daughters. They do not leave home, but they are incapable of appreciating the fact that everything at home is theirs. They feel the burden of being blessed! Loveless and cold, they can only move from one chore to the next tired, bored, and bitter at every turn. They are lost inside familiar walls also because, blind to their flaws, they are judgmental, resentful, and angry.
God’s irrational behavior, God’s generous splurging is done mostly for them, to convince them to enjoy what he has been giving them, daily, and to join the celebration when their wayward siblings return.
For these reasons, we should have found another angle from which to look at the Eucharist. It is a mad, irrational feast that is always available. It is a feast that is disproportionately extravagant judging by the state of those who are invited. It is justified only by the joy of the Father, of his household, of all those who believe that their sins are forgiven. It is a feast of the whole community; it joins heaven and earth because the loss had extended past each individual and affected the whole family. It is a feast that should convince us, at long last, that what Dad truly wants is for all of us to accept his forgiveness and bask in his love.