The Lord said to Joshua, "Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you."
While the Israelites were encamped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, they celebrated the Passover on the evening of the fourteenth of the month. On the day after the Passover, they ate of the produce of the land in the form of unleavened cakes and parched grain. On that same day after the Passover, on which they ate of the produce of the land, the manna ceased. No longer was there manna for the Israelites, who that year ate of the yield of the land of Canaan.(P) The word of the Lord.
I will bless the Lord at the times; his praise shall be ever in my mouth. Let my soul glory in the Lord; the lowly will hear me and be glad. (R)
Glorify the Lord with me, let us together extol his name. I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. (R)
Look to him that you may be radiant with joy, and your faces may not blush with shame. When the afflicted man called out, the Lord heard, and from all his distress he saved him. (R)
Brothers and sisters: Whoever is in Christ, is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.(P) The word of the Lord.
Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and the scribes began to complain, saying, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."
So to them Jesus addressed this parable: "A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, "Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me." So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, "How many of my father's hired workers have more than enough to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father, and I shall say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called you son; Treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers."" So he got up and went back to his father. 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. His son said to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son." But his father ordered his servants, "Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found." Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, "Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound." He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, "Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf." He said to him, "My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.""(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
In today's gospel we read one of the stories most familiar to us. It is the third of three parables Jesus told in answer to the people who were accusing him of associating with sinners. The first parable is about a shepherd, who had one hundred sheep and left his ninety nine sheep in a safe place to go in search of the lost sheep. When the shepherd finally found his sheep, he was joyful and called his friends together to celebrate with him. The second parable is about a poor woman with ten silver coins and who searched her entire house for one lost coin. Eventually on finding the coin, she shared her joy with her friends and neighbors. The third parable is about a father with two sons and who lovingly waited for his rebellious son to return home, and at last, when the lost son did come back, the father celebrated his coming home with his family and friends. Jesus used these stories essentially to teach the people that God delights in every sinner who repents and returns to Him, and that God sent him to find the lost sinners.
From today's gospel we learn three things about God:
Our God is saddened by our rebellion against or our disobedience to Him. In the third story, the younger son demanded his share of his father's property while the father was still alive which was contrary to the practice among the ancient Israelites. His demand was equivalent to saying, "I wish you were dead." Normally, the property was divided only upon the death of the father. Here, the implication was the son could not wait for his father's death for his inheritance. The father was certainly wounded by his son's harsh demand. Nevertheless, he divided his property and gave the younger son his share. A few days later the son sold his property, took the money and went to a "far country" meaning that he wanted to get as far away from his father as possible.
The father in the story represents God who is kind, loving and merciful and who wants a close and permanent relationship with us, His children. The younger son represents those children who rebel, disrespect God the Father and break their relationship with Him. The elder son represents people who resent God's forgiveness to the sinners who come back to Him in repentance.
Our Father wants us to love and serve Him freely and joyfully. Therefore, He lets us walk away from our relationship with Him if we desire to do so, even though it breaks His Fatherly heart when we do. He loves us so much that He does not force us to stay in relationship with Him. He did not stop the Israelites who wanted to get far away from Him. So also He does not stop us if we choose to walk away from Him. His nature is such that He loves us so much that He allows us to make our own choices, even though He knows what the consequences will be. Just as the father in the story grieved because his son walked out, God the Father grieves when even if one of His children breaks his or her relationship with Him.
Our God runs towards us when we come back to Him in repentance. According to the story, the son returned home after squandering all his wealth in wild living. All along the father was perhaps hopefully waiting for his son's return. That's why, the father did something amazing when he saw his son still far off. Luke (15:20) says that the father "was filled with compassion and he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him." The father didn't wait for his son to reach him. Instead he ran to meet his son. He hugged and kissed his rebellious son before the son could say a word. He did not even care what his son smelled like - the smell of garbage and pigs - neither did he care what the son had done or where he had been. The father just ran to his son as soon as he saw him, hugged him and kissed him. Yes. The father accepted his son just as he was.
God our Father welcomes us the same way, just as we are. He runs to meet us when we decide to return to Him. He runs toward us even after we have turned our backs on Him. As the proverb goes, "When we take one step toward God, God takes seven steps toward us." Despite repeated disobedience and rebellion against Him, He loves us and is patiently waiting for us to come back to Him. Despite our smelly past His love covers the stench.
Our God forgives and restores us when we truly repent. There are two kinds of sin - one is against God and the other is against other people. However, all sins ultimately, are against God. That's why the younger son said to his father, "I have sinned against heaven and against you." Yes. He acknowledged his sin against God, his father and family. Moreover he said to his father that he was no longer worthy to be called his son and he would be happy if he was even accepted as a servant. But the father refused to entertain the idea that his son would be a servant. Instead he commanded his servants to restore everything to his son. He gave his son a ring, sandals and a robe, which were signs of dignity and belonging.
This is exactly what God our Father does for us every time we return to Him in repentance. He restores our sense of dignity and reassures us that we are completely forgiven. Among the people who were listening to Jesus some were Pharisees who thought they were sinless - they did not need forgiveness. But there were tax collectors and other sinners there as well. Jesus was trying to tell them God is like a father who would welcome them and lovingly forgive them when they come to Him and repent of their sin.
Therefore, we must do four things in order to be restored to fellowship with God the Father:
First, we must acknowledge that we are sinners. Everyone is guilty of sinning. Saint Paul in his letter to the Romans (3:23) says, "...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Many years ago, an American Archbishop, Fulton John Sheen wrote in his theological book "Denying our sins", "The worst thing in the world is not sin, but the denial of sin; this is the unforgivable sin."
Second, we must understand the penalty for our sins. Death is the reward for sin. Saint Paul writes in his letter to the Romans (6:23), "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Third, we must confess and repent of our sins. God promises to forgive us our sins when we confess and turn from them. In his first letter Saint John (1:8-10) writes, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and forgives us our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us."
Fourth, we must believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation and only Jesus can lead us to God. Jesus Himself asserted, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me", John (14:6).
We have seen a wonderful picture of what God is like - Our God is saddened by our rebellion. Our God runs towards us when we go back to Him in repentance. Our God forgives and restores us when we truly repent. If you are one of the sinners, lost and hopeless, disgruntled and unhappy, then, Jesus has a message for you. He is saying, "God the Father will treat you as if you had never left and so get up and return to Him. He is waiting and longing for you to come back to Him." Are you willing to go back to Him? I believe that restoration can happen if you are willing and return to God in repentance and faith.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!