Our Gospel reading this weekend, if you are following the sequence of the Gospel of Luke, is a familiar story that might have particular consequences for our time in history. Sometimes when we are listening to a familiar story, we lose concentration because we think we already know everything the story has said. What’s most amazing about the teaching of Jesus is that it reveals to us deeper wisdom each time we are attentive to it, open to the working of the Holy Spirit within us and willing to be converted again and again to a deeper level of relationship with Jesus. Are you willing to do that as you contemplate this familiar story?
I think most of us understand the kind of love and forgiveness that is necessary between a parent and a child. In that relationship, there are great joys and disappointments. There are daily opportunities to show compassion and forgiveness or retribution and revenge. Reflecting from the point of view of both the parent and the child, let us enter into the story and its wisdom.
This story is universally understood because it tells the truth. Some of us who have been gifted in many ways waste those gifts on things that don’t last. We believe that the latest toys and things will make us happier, more popular, less bored and more fulfilled. We take for granted the gifts that we’ve been given and almost believe that we are entitled to them because of who we are, where we were born or even how good we think we have been. We hardly ever compare our own abundance to the needs of others. We’re afraid of that, because we know where that might lead us.
There are also some among us who are followers of the law, extremely faithful people, willing to do whatever we are told and at the same time angry because we don’t seem to get the attention and recognition compared to others who don’t toe the line. We fume from the inside, because we can’t believe we are as underappreciated as we are. We can’t understand why bad people are rewarded and good people are not. We have decided within ourselves who the good people are and who the bad people are, and we know what group we belong to.
We have been created and sustained by a God whose love is unlimited. Because that love is unlimited, it is available to those who walk the crooked path and those who walk the straight and narrow. Whether we are plagued by embarrassment and guilt or arrogance and prejudice, God’s love is available to all of us. Whether we have veered away from the love of God because of our wasteful living or our empty obedience, God’s hospitality and forgiveness is always waiting for us.
During Lent we are asked to open ourselves, through desert experiences, to a deeper conversion to Jesus and the healing of that relationship. This weekend’s Gospel offers us a way to begin to reflect upon our lives and where we are in need of conversion. Where is the broken part of our relationship with Jesus, and how can we be open to being healed? Are you one of those people who believes that because of your life choices, God has abandoned you and no longer loves you? Are you one of those folks who believes that God has to love you because you have been so obedient and faithful? God’s love is to be received as a gift. A gift is freely given, not earned. A gift is received with gratitude and openness. A gift, when given by God to us, has the power to lead us into deeper love. That can only happen if we have a humble and contrite heart.
Find yourself in this story, allow your heart to be re-oriented toward Jesus, allow God’s love to be the ruling force in your life and see what effect it has on your possible choices. May we allow God to complete the work he has begun in each of us.
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.