Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (Lk. 6:36)
Sibling rivalry; the perceived partiality favorable to the younger son who is prone to waywardness; the children taking for granted how good they have it at home; the father’s goodness:—all this and more is what the drama in this Sunday’s parable is about. It is the last of three parables that are a reply to those who, in the manner of the treacherous, do not speak to Jesus directly, and just murmur, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
The parable teaches that our heavenly Father is very good. Without considerations of timeliness or untimeliness, of merits or demerits, he divides his property among us and accepts our decisions even though we are not so wise on account of our relative youth. He does not impose nor does he question us. And when we humbly repent, he forgives without counting our trespasses. He welcomes us with joy, he affirms unconditionally our dignity as children, throws us a party, and reconciles our differences.
We do not always act in a way worthy of such a good Father. Time and again we conduct ourselves like the younger son: we leave home to follow our whims and suffer later on account of them; we fall into the depths of shameful misery, which very clearly shows our lack of maturity.
But even if we suppose that we have always stayed at home, we would still leave much to be desired. Insecure and feeling threatened, and sometimes more zealous than our Father, we question the motives and actions of our brothers. We open inquisitions and we censure. We mince no words: “Your son … swallowed up your property with prostitutes ….” We lack the delicate sensitivity of the Lord who commands that even the brother deserving of punishment not be wholly disgraced (Dt. 25:3), and who sees to it that the reproach of our slavery to sin is removed from us. Moreover, we show little willingness that our sisters’ share is given to them.
And we do not altogether believe in a merciful Father who “makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and unjust” (Mt. 5:45). We believe rather in a God who destines us to be his children because of our works, not by pure grace (cf. Eph. 1:11-12; 2:8-9). This is evident in our resentment that we are not duly recognized—despite our tireless service and exact fulfillment of our duties—and are not accorded what we are entitled to, as we see it. Characterizing those who do not take themselves as useless servants (Lk. 17:10; cf. Common Rules of the Congregation of the Mission XII, 14), such resentment deprives us of joy and turns us into killjoy. Incapable of partaking of the joy that a sinner’s repentance brings about, a joy similar to the one that would be elicited should a beloved, being dead, come back to life, don’t we have every reason to ask if we really believe in the Risen from the dead?
Each Christian, as the open-ended parable suggests, will have to answer on his own, with his eyes directly looking at Jesus, not on other Christians. No other Christian can take another’s place. One alone will decide for himself to enter or to refuse to enter, to be united to the family of Christ or to be separated from it, in order to remain the uncaring older brother who makes those “who represent to us the Son of God, whose will it was to be poor” (P. Coste XI, 32), feel ashamed.