- Confess your sins to one another (Jas. 5:16)
The second reading is clearly an exhortation to reconciliation with God. The first reading and the gospel, on the other hand, make it known, it seems to me, that reconciliation is returning either to one’s country of origin or to one’s home after a painful and bitter absence that at first was thought to be liberating and delightful.
The accounts do not gloss over the pain and bitterness of the life of both the slaves and the profligate now reduced to hunger and humiliation. This does not mean, however, that the focus is on the pain and the bitterness. Had these been the principal object of attention, then the story of those whom God brought out from the house of slavery would have ended with them forever wandering aimlessly in the wilderness and the parable of the prodigal son, with him dying of hunger or filling his stomach with the pods on which the swine fed. And the moral of the story then would be about the disaster that befalls those who worship idols, desire evil things, tempt God, and grumble.
But the lesson that is being taught this times is that God wants us to reconcile with him. Ready and willing to forgive us in the way that he alone really is capable of, God guides with utmost dedication the return of his people anew to the promised land and welcomes with great tenderness the runaway son. In my view, the inclusion of minute details regarding the cruel fate of slaves and the younger son’s dire needs serves to highlight the gratuity, the greatness and the depth of Gods’ mercy and forgiveness, such that they surpass human capability and expectation.
We human beings settle for giving to each only what he deserves. Were God like us, he would show no mercy and grant no forgiveness to the inveterate rebels of his chosen people whose transgressions are detailed in Psalm 106, for example. We would not be deserving of mercy and forgiveness either, given that we are no better than those because runaway children too that we are, we sin as much as they do (Rom. 3:9-20). God is different, however, and so he not only forgives; he also reassures, consoles, and encourages (cf. the chapter on forgiveness in Louis Evely’s That Man Is You). The superiority of one who grants pardon disposes the forgiver to threaten, humiliate and even quash the forgiven.
Tainted with self-righteousness, the Pharisees and scribes could not help complain and say, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Just like the older son, they thought themselves deserving of the best treatment that God could give, in consideration of their exact observance of his orders and their continuous presence at home and their enslaving for the sake of the family patrimony. They made their merits stand out, at the expense of the publicans, in order to demand what they believed they truly deserved. Not needing to come to their senses, they could not acknowledge, much less, confess their sinfulness nor could they stomach fellowship with sinners.
The bad thing, however, about not coming to one’s senses, of the failure to acknowledge or confess one’s sinfulness, is that it makes reconciliation unattainable. And those who do not reconcile with God and his people will be none of the new creation. Closed to the new that has been ushered in, they continue to live in the past, thinking and behaving according to the same old worldly saying, “Give to each only what he deserves.” They will not know to sing either the Easter proclamation, “O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!” nor will they be part of the embrace of the whole world in network of charity—to use Blessed Frederic Ozanam’s words—that will be as inevitable as the reign of God unstoppably advancing in the manner of the yeast that works through all the dough.
I would not want to be either left behind in the march of return to the lasting homeland or stay there with the swine, dying of hunger or filling my stomach with the pods they eat, would I?