The Love of the Father
The two anecdotes shared in Luke’s gospel today cannot be understood separately from the third story which Jesus tell about the parable of the prodigal son, so I have included the full reference in the links above.
The story of the prodigal son captures both the strengths and weaknesses of our human nature. It portrays a loving and forgiving father and a lost son who has squandered his life and his possessions.
The parable is often used at reconciliation services to illustrate the importance of conversion in our lives. That when we have strayed from God we need only turn our hearts back to him and God will welcome us with open arms. As an illustration of the power of conversion and repentance I think the story speaks volumes on its own.
The interesting thing is that by not presenting the story of the prodigal son on its own the gospel writer shifts the focus from conversion and repentance to something else. By having Jesus share two other little stories, one about a lost sheep and the other about a lost coin the context seems to be telling us that the parable is not so much about sin and repentance but about God’s passionate love for each one of us.
When you consider a woolly little sheep grazing in the pasture do you think it might have any sense of right and wrong, do we think of a sheep as a moral creature? A coin doesn’t hide itself on purpose nor can it do anything for itself to be found again. But the objects in both stories do have one thing in common. They are both highly valued by the ones who have lost them and in both cases the owners go to extravagant means to get them back.
Jesus is trying to tell us something here. He is trying to get into our heads how much God is in love with us, so much so that it’s just plain foolish. He is trying to teach us that God will do anything for us.
We write songs about that kind of love. Its Climb the highest mountain, swim the widest ocean, cross the driest desert for you kind of love. St. Alphonsus used to write about this kind of love that God had for us, he would say God is “Pazze” (crazy) for us.
When we look once again at the story of the prodigal son from this perspective we focus not on the sin of the young man, nor on his decision to return to his home to face what waits for him there. Instead our focus is on the Father who never stops loving. The father who goes about his daily routine with only half a mind on his work while he keeps one eye on the horizon always hopeful that this will be the day that his lost son returns. In the story there is not a moment of hesitation in the father when he finally sees his son. There is no playing back in his mind of the many ways the son had hurt him. Rather he runs to greet his son while he is still a long way off and holds him in his arms and kisses him even before the son has chance to say he is sorry.