God’s Bearhugging Boy

JMJ

The Readings for Saturday in the 2nd Week of Lent (B2)

Erant autem appropinquantes ei publicani, et peccatores ut audirent illum. Et murmurabant pharisaei, et scribae, dicentes : Quia hic peccatores recipit, et manducat cum illis. Et ait ad illos parabolam istam.
Now the publicans and sinners drew near unto him to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying: This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. And he spoke to them this parable. 

There are actually three parables in response to this complaint about receiving sinners and eating with them.


The first is about the man with 100 sheep but one goes missing.

The second is about the woman with 10 coins, but one goes missing.
The third is this one, today’s reading, about the man with two sons – and one goes missing.

In all of these the story is about something that was lost, that was marked as terribly important, that was returned at risk. But the prodigal son is different: for the Father doesn’t go looking for the Prodigal, but rather waits patiently for him to come home. That is also a risk. But I think we need to look at all three episodes as a package: there’s a difference between a sheep, a coin, and a son. 


This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.


A sheep is a (somewhat domesticated) animal. They are a bit stupid – they can float away if the water gets too deep around them while they are eating. They tend to follow the being in front of them. They can get caught in briars like some sort of gigantic, four-legged, bleating, velcrosaurus. (One of these was caught earlier this week as a replacement for Isaac.) You do have to go looking for them. You never know what might have happened.


As for a coin, an inanimate object, we know this is here in the house somewhere. I’ve only just forgot where I put it. This will drive me crazy until I find it. I must have dropped it and… yes, here it is under the fridge. It could also be between the cushions on the sofa. I love sofa cushion searches after a party! In the Fraternity House at NYU this was practically a fund-raising function. 


This man welcomes sinners and eats with them. 


Well, yeah. And Jesus replies, “If you lost a sheep, you’d go looking for it, right? If you lost a coin, wouldn’t you go looking for it as well? And you’d have a party either way (at least inside)… right? A wayward child is very different.”

Brothers and Sisters, we are neither sheep nor coins in three individual stories: we are the lost child in the final episode of one long tale. We are generally not stupid like sheep nor inanimate like coins. We are willful, wayward, well-loved, and welcomed home.

This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.


The Prodigal a long way off is not yet fully reconciled to the ways of his father. He hasn’t yet been through even his planned confession: certainly not recognized the fullness of the wrongs he’s committed. He’s a long way off – and the Father runs to meet him. Jesus welcomes us home. In fact, nearly the moment we turn to him, he’s at our side guiding and guarding. The saints would go further: before we turn to him he’s there as well. How can this be, given the doctrine of Free Will? Imagine you are on a river in a rowboat: you can easily row against the current and go anywhere you want. You can also ride the current. The analogy breaks if you press it too hard, but it works well enough. The Holy Spirit is always there (“everywhere present and filling all things” as the Byzantine rite has it). We’re unable to escape. But we’re always able to ignore.

In se autem reversus, returning to himself. The Greek says “having come to himself”. The things of this world that attract us (sex, drugs, rock and roll, or just a good job, a home, a white picket fence, a spouse, some kids, and a couple of dogs) are not us. Each us us, even the most faithful spouse and parent, the most efficient worker, and/or the hardest partier, are  all able to do these things but not to be them. This is not us: our actions are not who we are. Our actions help form us, yes, but they are not who we are. We wake up one day and say, how did I get here?  Then you have begun the real journey home.


Quis, Deus, similis tui, qui aufers iniquitatem, et transis peccatum reliquiarum haereditatis tuae? Non immittet ultra furorem suum, quoniam volens misericordiam est.
Who is a God like to thee, who takest away iniquity, and passest by the sin of the remnant of thy inheritance? he will send his fury in no more, because he delighteth in mercy. 

The publicans and sinners begin to “draw near” and Jesus runs out, grabs them with both hands in a huge carpenter’s arms bearhug and says, “Hey! I got some food here to share…”

This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.

Jesus reply is essentially, “These are not sheep, these are not lost coins. These are people whom my Father made and with whom I am honored to eat. And over food, I may draw them ever closer the one loves them and calls them home…”

Go and do thou likewise.