With Open Hands

Dcn. John Stanley’s Homily March 31, 2019

“We’re all familiar with this beautiful Gospel so richly packed.  We all know it as the story of the prodigal son but perhaps it should be called the story of the two sons and the loving father.  Jesus tells us this story in the context of him sitting down among tax collector and other sinners. Meanwhile Pharisees and Scribes are looking on from a distance.  They’re grumbling and murmuring at what they are seeing. How could this Rabbi, this would be prophet defile himself by eating with sinners? For to Jews to eat with anyone unclean was to make yourself unclean and clearly sinners especially tax collectors were seen as unclean, so why does Jesus sit with tax collectors and sinners?  We see it throughout the Gospels. Well today, he answers that question as he often does with a story and St. Luke tells us that sinners and tax collectors have been drawn to him in this scene. St. Luke also tells us that the parable of Jesus is intended for the ears of the Pharisees and the Scribes, so we can just picture the scene of the Pharisees and the Scribes standing at a distance just within earshot to make sure that they hear this blasphemy and Jesus begins his story.

A man had two sons and the younger son was deviant.  He was rebellious and he goes up to his father and he rudely and crudely and obnoxiously tells his father, ‘Give me my inheritance.  I want my money and I want it now.’ It’s akin to him saying to his father, ‘Dad you mean nothing to me. I wish you were dead. Give me my inheritance.’  Amazingly, the father allows his son to have the freedom that he asked for. He gives him his inheritance and we know what happens. We know that money does not buy happiness or buy us freedom.  He squanders all of his money on loose living and then when he has no money, a famine hits and he’s hungry and he goes out and finds the only job he can find, a job that is the lowest of the low for any Jew to accept.  He is hired to slop hogs, to feed the swine. After doing this for some time he realizes that his father’s own hired workers are eating much better than he and he has a change of heart. The shame and the guilt, they’re laid upon him and he decides to go back to his father to seek forgiveness.  When he gets to his father he tells his father, ‘Father, I’ve sinned against you and I’ve sinned against Heaven. I no longer should be called your son.’ And what does the father do? With open hands he embraces his son, he puts a ring on his finger, he gives him a fine robe around his shoulders, puts sandals on his feet.  ‘Kill the fatted calf for today we celebrate. My son was dead and has come back to life. He was lost and has been found. Let the celebration begin.’ Now let’s go back to the scene. We can see Jesus with these sinners, tax collectors, perhaps prostitutes sitting around near him and his eyes are gazing lovingly on him and now he turns his eyes and his head and he gazes at the Pharisees and the Scribes and what do they do in return?  Do they look down? Do they look away? Do they say anything? We don’t know.

Who do we identify with?  Which son are we? Are we the younger son who needs to pick himself up and leave the pig slop of his sins that he’s wallowing in, sins of perhaps substance abuse? Materialism?  Pornography? Infidelity? Our Heavenly Father is waiting with outstretched hands for us. Notice that the father does not go after the son and pick him up out of the muck.  No, the son is required, we are required to turn to the father, to come and ask forgiveness for Jesus, God, has given us that freedom and it all begins with humility. Now others of us are the older brother.  We think we’re good. We think we’re good because we go to Mass regularly. We tithe and we follow the Church rules. Yes, we pray, we pay and we obey and isn’t that our ticket to Heaven? No. We are guilty of the sin of presumption.  We need conversion just as much as that younger brother and it’s only with a sense of humility can we recognize this sin and have a change of heart for sin is insidious. We know how easy it is to fall into sin and how easy it is to fall back into that same sin.  Yet we also know that with the grace of God we can turn away from Sin and turn to God.  Christianity is not a presumption of God’s mercy rather as in our story.  Christianity is a life long celebration of second chances and the sacrament of reconciliation is our chance to start anew as children of our loving father.”