In our Gospel today we are reminded of two truths of our faith. First, God created us in love, He created us in an ecstatic love, and in this love He created us to participate in his divine life by being in friendship and union with him. Second, with our God-given free will we sinned and rejected God’s love choosing instead to trust in ourselves rather than trusting in Him. However, God constantly reaches out to us, to bring us back, into a right relationship with Him.
A few years ago I read the book, Brideshead revisited. It was written by Evelyn Waugh a British Catholic convert from the first half of the twentieth century. This book is about a wealthy British Catholic family, the Marchmains. And a few members of this family, if they had been living at the time of Jesus, they’d be eating at the table with him in today’s Gospel. They were sinners spending their lives trying to get as far away from God as possible. Eventually, however, these wandering Marchmains responded to God’s ever pursuing grace because as we read in the second truth; God constantly reaches out to us. And a priest character in the book describes this grace of God reaching out to us, in a way that I’ve never forgotten. This is God talking about someone who finally responded to his grace, “I caught him with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.”
God lets us live in freedom and sometimes in that freedom we wander away maybe even far away, but He always pursues, tugging on that line and hopefully we eventually respond to that tug of grace. In today’s Gospel we heard three examples of God’s grace at work. And this grace has a logic that is so very different from the logic of this world.
The logic of the world is about control and division. It’s about who’s in and who’s out. This logic of the world tells us, if you hurt me I’ll hurt you back and if you do something for me I owe you. But the logic of God’s grace is totally different because grace is a free gift. And if we were to think with the logic of grace we’d have to say instead, “Even though I don’t owe you anything I’m going to give you something,” and “Even though you’ve hurt me I’m not going to seek revenge,” and “Even though you won’t forgive me, I’ll forgive you and give you a gift.” It’s this logic of grace that we see in today’s Gospel, a logic that looks to the other instead of looking inward at self. The shepherd leaves ninety-nine valuable sheep in search of one whom he may not even find. This goes against the logic of the world. Why risk so much for one sheep worth so little compared to the rest? And then there’s the woman who diligently tears apart her house in search of a coin that’s only worth about a penny. Would we do the same? Do we think with the logic of grace, seeking the lost and the estranged, giving and forgiving without expecting anything in return?
Our Gospel today ends with the famous parable of the prodigal son but it could also be called the prodigal sons because both sons have turned away from their father. They think with the logic of the world. The younger son says in effect, “I’m unwilling to wait for you to die, so give me what is due to me.” And the older son says to the Father, “I’ve been like your slave all these years and you owe me.” These two sons think only of themselves and the father responds to this greed not with the logic of the world he instead responds with the logic of grace telling them, “Everything I have is yours.”
The younger son eventually comes to repentance and there’s a line that always moves me. “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.” An elderly wealthy man, at the time of Jesus, would never run out to meet his son, especially one who had left him and squandered all his money. It wouldn’t be dignified he would lose all respect and social standing in the community. But the father loves his son and as we heard in the second truth, God always reaches out to us to bring us back into a right relationship with Him.
Father Hoppough one of my professors at the seminary used to tell us that we are like the prodigal son whenever we stand at the door of the confessional. At the sight of us God the Father is filled with compassion, He sees our heart, and He is ready to forgive, He runs to us, He embraces us, and He kisses us. This is a consoling thought that comes to me whenever I go to confession because going to confession is not fun even for a priest. It’s a humbling experience, but also a very good experience.
Two truths, God created us in love to participate in his life, and if in sin we stray from that love he pursues us and when we turn back to him in repentance there is much rejoicing among the angels of God in Heaven.
“I caught him with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.”
Let us be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley