Friday, March 17, 2017

Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

(Optional Memorial for Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)

“The Return of the Prodigal Son” 
by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, c. 1669
Commentary on Mi7:14-15, 18-20
This is the very end of the Book of the Prophet Micah.  In the previous chapters he has chastised and condemned the excesses and corruption of Jerusalem and Samaria (rich exploiters of the poor, fraudulent merchants, venal judges, corrupt priests and prophets).  Now at the end, he presents the Lord’s forgiveness and mercy to those who return to him.
The passage begins with a prayer of Micah. He asks that the people (likely a remnant returning to the region following their exile in 537 B.C.) might be given back their historical lands and live in peace. Following the two verses not used in which the prophet proclaims that all surrounding nations will be in fear of the power of God, he continues with two petitions in a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s mercy and forgiveness. The first is a prayer to Yahweh, probably dating from the time of return from exile. There is a note of longing that comes through: “…and will again have compassion on us, treading underfoot our guilt? You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins.
The second petition is Israel’s prayer for forgiveness: “Who does not persist in anger forever, but delights rather in clemency.” It recalls God’s pledge of faithfulness and grace. His mercy flows from his love of the people. “The book ends by recalling the promises of the covenant binding Yahweh and the patriarchs. The Lord had pledged his "faithfulness" ('emet) and "grace" (hesed) to the Israel of old, and he was not about to renege now.”[4]
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12
R. (8a) The Lord is kind and merciful.
Continuing the theme of forgiveness, Psalm 103 is a song of praise and thanksgiving to God for his mercy.  It recognizes both God’s mercy and our need, as sinners, for it.  The psalmist rejoices in God’s saving help following a period of adversity.
CCC: Ps 103 304
Commentary on Lk 15:1-3, 11-32
The topic of repentance and forgiveness comes to a climax with St. Luke’s Parable of the Prodigal Son, one of the two “Parables of Mercy” found in this section.  The parables distill the essence of the Good News. Found only in St. Luke’s Gospel, the imagery is instantly clear that this is to be an analogy. The father in the story represents God and the Prodigal Son followers of Christ, when they repent their sins. Interestingly, the older brother also represents Christians when they do not forgive those who have also sinned. We are given the picture of the loving father welcoming his son home, an allusion used also in the parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:3-7). The invitation implicit is that those who seek forgiveness find it in God.
CCC: Lk 15 1443, 1846; Lk 15:1-2 589; Lk 15:11-32 545, 2839; Lk 15:11-31 1700; Lk 15:11-24 1439; Lk 15:18 1423, 2795; Lk 15:21 2795; Lk 15:23-32 589; Lk 15:32 1468
The Prophet Micah’s oracle tries to tell us something of the depth of God’s love and mercy.  The parable of the Prodigal Son, told by Jesus, provides a living example of the unwavering love of God for his children.  The revelation of God’s love is one of the great pillars of our faith and a core reason Jesus was sent as man to walk among us.  It is the notion that God’s forgiveness is endless, his embrace is unreserved.
All of this we know, we have been taught; the Church has provided an avenue for us to experience it. Yet, why is it so difficult for us to accept it?  Oh, we do not mean intellectually.  Intellectually we know that God’s invitation is always there. His hand is always outstretched.  Intellectually we know that, by dying on the cross, Jesus offered the great sacrifice of atonement that removed the stain of death brought upon us by Adam’s fall from grace.  Intellectually we know that the repentant sinner is loved and cherished by God, even if that person only repented at the last moment of life.
But when it comes down to our hearts, we cannot simply let go of our sin and allow the loving Father to welcome us home and embrace us.  There is in us that dark corner of our souls that holds back. It is that fear that tells us, “wait, the sins we have committed are unforgivable,” or, “wait, the sin we have committed gave us enjoyment and we may want to go there again. Don’t go back just yet.”  These warring emotions battle within us, keeping us from accepting the loving embrace of our Lord. They keep us from offering ourselves wholly to the Father who wants us to come home.
It is one of the most difficult things we can do, accepting forgiveness for our sins.  Part of the reason for this is that before we can fully accept the Father’s forgiveness, we must accept that his forgiveness is truly there.  Then and only then can we forgive ourselves as well.  It is only when our faith allows us to accept that God forgives our most vile faults that we can live in freedom from sin.  It is only in turning away from those sins that we can come home to our loving Father.
The parable of the Prodigal Son is one that, for all of us, should embody our Lenten journey.  It is, after all, a journey home to the Father after we have once more squandered our inheritance.

[1] The picture is “The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, c. 1669
[4] Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice Hall, Inc., © 1968, 17:33, pp. 289

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