On Being as Compassionate as God

(Micah 7:14-15, 18-30; Ps 103; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32)


When was the last time you saw a play?

Today’s liturgy unfolds like a three-act play, inviting us to be as compassionate as our God is compassionate.

The prophet Micah provides the first act with God as the main character, a God who is forgiveness and mercy, who casts all our sins into the sea, who pardons sin, passes over transgressions, and delights in showing clemency and compassion.

Psalm 103, one of my favorite psalms, serves as the second act, continuing to reveal a God who is forgiveness, and in the process, prophetically pointing us a future Messiah who would come to redeem and to sanctify, to forgive and heal, to crown us with love and mercy. We are told that God will remove our transgressions from us by placing our sins as far as the East is from the West. That expression is another way of saying God will “blot out our transgressions and not even remember them” (Isaiah 43:45). Now that is forgiveness. If God does not remember our sins, that means they no longer exist! Why, then, do so many of us cling to them and have such a hard time forgiving ourselves?

Our play comes to a dramatic finale with the gospel, featuring one of the most poignant, profound and powerful depictions of love as forgiveness in the whole bible. I would entitle this act, not the story of the Prodigal Son as is traditional, but the story of the Loving Father and the Two Lost Sons. It wonderfully complements and completes the first two acts from Micah and Psalm 103.

The younger son got lost in sin – treating his father like he was dead, blowing his inheritance and alienating himself from his family, religion and culture – all of whom would consider him totally lost and condemned. But he came to his senses, repented, and humbly returned home ready to be just a servant.

Imagine his surprise to find his father not just waiting for him, but running out to greet him, kiss him, hug him, and restore all he had before – symbolized by the cloak (the best one), the ring (officially part of the family again) and the sandals (he was home). There was not even a hint of anger, revenge, punishment, blame – just pure compassion, mercy, unconditional love, forgiveness and overflowing joy expressed through celebration.

Jesus here is coming as close as words can convey to revealing the true nature of God – the epilogue would have to wait until he died on the cross – where he finally showed the world his Father who is mercy, compassion, unconditional love, forgiveness and total non-violence.

We still struggle to fathom and accept this extravagant nature of God. Angie Mihalicz used to teach this parable to her grade ten Christian Ethics class and have the students write out their own experience of being a prodigal son or daughter. They had no problem at all remembering a time when they messed up and writing that out, but to a person, they could not finish the assignment when it came to the part about them coming home again. Why? Because, they all stated, that is not how it was – they were always remembered for what they did wrong. How hard it is for us to genuinely forgive.

That is the part played by the elder son. He was always home and never did anything blatantly wrong like his younger brother, but was full of painful emotions like anger, resentment, and jealousy, as well as negative attitudes like stubborn self-righteousness, unforgiveness, judging his brother and even disowning him (“this son of yours”). While he may not have sinned as such, he is the one who may not make it into the banquet – the story ends with him arguing with his father who came out to plead with him and forgive him as well.

As observers of this biblical drama, we are invited to see ourselves in all three characters. For the times when we have been like the prodigal son, we can come to Jesus as the Messiah to receive his forgiveness and mercy. For the times when we are like the elder son, full of painful emotions and defects of character, we can come to Jesus for healing and restoration. But above all, we are invited to strive to become like the loving Father, able to forgive all hurt that has come our way, with merciful understanding and compassion.

Lucie Leduc, director of the Star of the North Retreat Centre in St. Albert, shares the example of a woman whose husband left her for a younger woman. She never responded with anger, and would every time she could, let him know she was ready to take him back, and that he should come back to the marriage. Finally, when he got older and ran out of money, this other woman left him, and he did return. To everyone’s amazement, she accepted him back without rancor or bitterness, and looked after him lovingly until he passed on. She truly had become the loving father of this biblical drama.

The Eucharist is very much like the play and the story. Our loving Father accepts us as we are, forgives us through his Word, heals us through our communion with the body and blood of Jesus, and sends us out to be like the loving Father to all who are both prodigal sons and bitter elder sons in our lives.


Updated: March 2, 2024 — 1:14 am

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