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To Know Mercy

Mar 31, 2019

Today’s Readings

Throughout his ministry, Jesus urges us to strive for perfection, especially in our capacity to love and to forgive. The reason for this is simple: we fail. A lot. We make mistakes, mess up, lose the plot, and sometimes we even do it knowingly.

To live without an expanded sense of love, forgiveness and compassion is to live in a continual state of disappointment: other people’s circumstances and motivations are alien; our expectations are never met.

What kind of way to live is that?

Today’s gospel is the parable of the prodigal son. Aside from its main message of forgiveness, it was aimed at the Pharisees who were so busy judging Jesus for keeping company with sinners that they couldn’t see what attracted these pariahs to Christ: mercy.

In the story, the prudent son’s indignation is understandable. Surely he worked hard to follow the rules and please his father; why is the son who screwed up rewarded simply for coming home hungry?

But in squandering his inheritance and falling on famine, the prodigal son realized he had made a mess of things and understood the need for his father’s mercy. All he had to do was ask.

The prudent son, never having put a foot wrong, could not access this revelation.

We talk a lot about the negative impact of sin and the ways we disappoint ourselves and others every day. Better to remember that behind every imperfect word or deed lies the sublime gift of mercy and healing — if only the offended party knows he has the power to give it, and the sinner knows he has the power to ask for and receive it.