Mi 7:14-15, 18-20
Lk 15:1-3, 11-32
A God of Mercy and compassion – a God many of us often struggle to believe in. The prophet Micah writes about the God who removes guilt, delights in clemency, and casts our guilt and sin to the depths of the sea. The Psalmist writes that the Lord is kind and merciful. God heals us, redeems us, and crowns us with kindness and compassion. Lastly, Jesus tells a parable about an infinitely forgiving father rejoicing in the return of a son who was lost but is now found. The message is strong and clear today – mercy and compassion.
The experience of faithful generations through time and history give us these images and reflections of God. Yet it is our own experience that often gets in the way of truly believing in the God of mercy and compassion. We witness the way in which the world operates and we expect God to be the same. Others hurt us and this clouds our vision of God. We withhold forgiveness from others and others struggle to forgive us; this pattern leads us to believe the same of God. Our experience of human finitude and shortcoming makes it hard for us to envision the kind of God talked about in the readings today.
But our experience also allows us to know love, forgiveness, and compassion – all qualities of the God we read of today. Yet we are shaped by our experience. Let us consider the older son in Jesus’s parable. Because of his experience and the way he knew the world to operate he expected punishment and shame for the younger brother upon his return. The elder son knew his father, had a relationship with him, and yet failed to understand his rejoicing and celebrating the return of the younger son. This is a story which illustrates how our own presumptions and visions of things cloud the way in which we are able to understand the merciful and compassionate ways of our God. We can only judge based on our experience, and it is experience that causes the older brother to expect his father to act differently.
Our faith challenges us to see God with new eyes. We must see God as the ultimate mystery that is always bigger and beyond the notions we attempt impose on God. With God we can expect the unexpected. Like the older son, we are challenged to shed the layers of experience that tempt us to put God in a box. We must be open and eager to receive the mercy and compassion of God. We must be ready to celebrating the mercy and compassion that God extends to others. We must challenge ourselves to imitate the father and forgive the unforgivable. Because when it all comes down to it, aren’t we all in need of a welcoming and warm embrace from the God who is always inviting our return? The God who, like the father, wants to celebrate the fact that we have been found? Let us pray that our Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving bring us closer to the God who is always waiting with mercy and compassion.
- Tyler Wessman served in Honduras as a Passionist Volunteer in 2007-2008. He is currently studying for a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) at the School of Theology and Ministry, Boston College.