There are few scripture passages that have had more scrutiny than the Gospel we hear today---which has been referred to as the Prodigal Son. In all fairness perhaps we should speak of the prodigal daughter---or simply prodigal person. It seems to me one of the central messages in all three readings we have this Sunday is the call to forgiveness and letting go of the past---whatever that past is/was in your life.
The Reading from Joshua urges the Israelite people to forget their past. The past bondage has been removed from them---they are no longer under the slavery of the Egyptians. The Lord told them, "Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you." We are invited today to follow the example of the Israelites and leave behind the reproaches of past sins and sorrows so we can enter a new phase of our spiritual life and our relationship with God. The Israelites were fed by the manna in the desert of their journey. We are fed by the bread of life we receive in Eucharist---the Good News that our God is with us to feed us and to remove any reproach-anything which keeps us from God.
St. Paul likewise tells us the relationship we have with God is like a new creation. Paul radically changed his life from being a person who was out to kill Christians and followers of Jesus to a person who ultimately gave his life for Christ and his belief in Christ. He urged all to "put on Christ". Paul preaches reconciliation and forgiveness for anything we may have done or forgotten to do. What better time than this Lenten season to forgive and be forgiven by one another without regard for whose fault it is, without waiting for the "guilty party" to make the first move. This means we have to let go of the past hurts and memories and like a new creation revive our relationships with a new bond of love.
The Gospel story of the Prodigal Son has been looked at in almost every conceivable way over the centuries. As we look at the 3 main characters and honestly look over our life we can probably see that we have played the role of each at some time or another in our life. Perhaps like the son we have struck out on our own without having all that we need. Perhaps we did not listen to others with more experience in life. Perhaps we felt like we knew it all and others were only getting in our way-holding us back on our life's journey. We find that the old car we had is in fact a "Junker" and can no longer be repaired; the job we had has been lost; we stayed at some friends home---but that got old real quick; we had to swallow our pride and come home---dreading the phrase---"I told you so but you wouldn't listen".
Or maybe we are the person who stayed home being the good one in the family, helping out around the house, cleaning our room, baby sitting for the younger kids while your parents "got away for a weekend by themselves". Saved the little allowance your parents gave you for doing some chores around the house---trying to save for a rainy day and the books needed to start at the community college; took out student loans as your parents could not financially help. And then your sibling---calls to come home after walking away and blowing everything they had. Mom and dad threw a party for them and invited family and friends---had the food catered; an open bar for all. The anger you feel is palpable. Here all along you have been here day in and day out with never a party for you. You feel like you have been the invisible family servant.
What parent does not want the best for their child? What parent does not rejoice when their child is successful? What parent does not allow their child to come home when they have gone astray? If you can not go home where can you go?
In today's society we have the program called TOUGH LOVE. I am not too sure what this means but it is my understanding that a parent is to "hold their ground" and not give in to all the whims of their children. Not give in to everything they want. Perhaps if they do not comply with family rules to force them to move out-live on the streets-in a homeless shelter. When parents try to work with their children and given them what they want or they feel they need at times they are called an ENABLER. An enabler does not confront dysfunction but goes along with it-enables it. We hear of this in terms of an alcoholic family member when other family members do not confront the alcoholism but "look the other way". We also have the "intervention" program-where all family members agree to confront the alcoholic and if needed to physically take the alcoholic to a residential treatment program.
Today we have many mental health professionals with programs to assist individuals and families; technology which makes it easy to stay in touch; GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) to assist us in finding our way.
One of the challenges today is to be able to take what we currently have available to us and blend this with the message of Jesus as related in parables and metaphors in scripture.
However the CLEAR message today is the total acceptance and forgiveness of Jesus. There is absolutely nothing I am capable of doing in my life that will prompt Jesus to turn me way. Jesus is the one person who is totally forgiving and accepting. The father running to greet his son who has come home is the symbol of divine grace. Grace-the presence of Jesus within us---is given to us over and over again---freely given to each of us. We can either accept this presence in our life or turn away. The choice is completely ours.
At times it is very tough to actually implement the scripture messages in our life. COMING HOME has very many meanings and the meanings can change as we walk our journey through this life. There are many steep hills and deep valleys; there are many twists and turns. COMING HOME is not just a geographical location on a map but many times a spiritual location in our soul where we KNOW we are loved beyond all measure; where we KNOW God has removed the reproach of our past lives; where we KNOW that God is there even if we can not at this exact time experience God in our life.
Author Henri Nouwen has suggested the surrender of the elder son in us is even more daunting than it is for us to find healing as the younger son. Nouwen questions: Can the elder son in me come home? How can I return when I am lost in resentment, jealousy and anger? God waits my homecoming with open arms.