Date: Sunday, September 11, 2022
On Friday, in London, King Charles III addressed the people of Great Britain, the Commonwealth and the world after the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. In his first public speech as King, Charles bestowed titles on his son William and his wife Kate Middleton, making them Prince and Princess of Wales. King Charles also acknowledged his son Harry, “I express my love for Prince Harry and Meghan [the Duke and Duchess of Sussex] as they continue to build their lives overseas.” Prince William is taking on greater responsibilities as the crown prince and is considered the dutiful older son. Prince Harry, being the younger son, the spare not the heir, is taking a path apart from his family with less royal responsibility and privilege.
In our Gospel today, in response to the Pharisees and Scribes showing displeasure with Jesus’ association with sinners and outcasts, Jesus tells three parables: a shepherd searching for a wandering sheep; a woman searching for a lost coin; and a father with two sons waiting for the return of the wayward youngest son. This story of Jesus has been called the Parable of the Prodigal Son. “Prodigal” means extravagant, wasteful, and reckless. It has a negative connotation. While the name “prodigal” fits the younger son for his selfish and hurtful behavior, “prodigal” also describes the older dutiful son who is willing to throw away and squander his relationship with his father by holding on to his anger and resentment of his younger brother. The word “prodigal” can be used as well in reference to the father who is so eager to forgive and to embrace his youngest son and then goes out to persuade his older son to please let go of his resentment and jealousy and welcome his brother home. The father wishes to share everything with both sons!
There is a pattern of God’s mercy in our readings this weekend. In our first reading from the Book of Exodus, Moses pleads with God to relent from punishing the Hebrews, the People of Israel, for their idolatry. In the opening verse of our Responsorial Psalm we sing, “Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.” Saint Paul in his Letter to Timothy confesses, “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant, but I have been mercifully treated because acted out of ignorance in my unbelief.” And certainly, divine mercy is on display in the three Gospel parables. St. Luke, our evangelist, portrays Jesus putting words into action at the very end of his life. When Jesus is crucified, he appeals, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” And then Jesus forgives the repentant criminal, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”
The great thing about the parables of Jesus, they invite us to enter the story and identify with the characters. We can, depending on time and circumstances, be sympathetic with the younger brother/son who messes up his life, or the older brother/son stuck in own bitterness or the father waiting and reaching out to his less than perfect sons. One thing more with a parable, we can retell the story and add an ending. Can we imagine the oldest son, the embittered older brother, eventually coming into the feast and being reconciled with his younger brother and with his father?
On Saturday morning, Prince William and Prince Harry walked out together with their respective wives, Kate and Meghan, to welcome well-wishers outside Windsor Castle. The crowd was delighted and pleasantly surprised. Jesus is the fountain of God’s mercy. In Jesus, God gives us the example and grace to forgive, to heal and to retore broken relationships. God is mercy itself.