This is one great parable, isn’t it!?!  Especially in this Lenten season, we can all relate to the prodigal son, wasteful and extravagant in our use of all that God has given us to fulfill our own desires rather than for the building up of God’s kingdom.  But, sinful though we are, if we convert our lives, God, in his love and care for us – will always demonstrate his love, always forgive us and welcome us back

We know this parable under the title of the prodigal son because he recklessly wasted his inheritance.  But, it could just as easily be called the parable of the prodigal father.  To be prodigal also speaks of being lavishly abundant.  And, the father, who symbolizes God in this story, is certainly that: lavishly abundant.  In his profuse generosity, he gives his younger son the inheritance that was coming to him when the father would have died.  Notice, the son was effectively telling his father “I want you dead.”  The father must have been heartbroken when the son rejected him, his home and family – and even his entire homeland – to pursue another lifestyle.  But, when the son saw the error of his ways and returned home, the father ran out to greet him with warmth and affection.  He gave him sandals, a robe and a big party!  He even gave him a ring – probably a signet ring, symbolizing that he was, once again, part of the family.  The father offered forgiveness – not begrudgingly – but freely, lavishly, lovingly.  Truly, he was prodigal in the best sense of that word. 

 And then, when he heard about his older son’s refusal to join the party, the father went out again to seek him and teach him how to love his brother, with unconditional forgiveness.

As we approach the end of Lent, we rejoice to learn about the mercy that our loving God lavishes on us.  Even if we have rejected God – effectively saying to God, “I want you out of my life” – and pursued other ways in our life, God looks out for our return and, when we come back, he is lavish in his forgiveness and love.

As we hear this parable about God’s love and mercy, we are called to reflect on our lives – whom do we need to forgive?  Is there someone in our family with whom we have not spoken?  Is there someone at work who has wronged us?  A spouse who has betrayed us?  Do we have a child who has rebelled?

Can we be as generous as our merciful God? Is there anything more God-like than forgiveness?

Jesus’ ministry was often about forgiveness – eating with sinners, forgiving sins publicly, boldly preaching about his Father’s unbounded mercy.  In the ultimate act of forgiveness, obedient to his Father, Jesus gave his life for the forgiveness of our sins.  This is at the core of salvation history – forgiveness.  How can we possibly be grateful enough for such unbounded mercy?

God is willing – in fact, eager – to forgive us because he wants us back home.  In today’s first reading, we hear about the Israelites celebrating as they return home to the land that had been given to their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  And, the Gospel account speaks eloquently of the younger son being welcomed back home as his father embraces him and walks with him back home.

Our reading today from Paul’s second letter to the Christians in Corinth reminds us that God “has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation … entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”  St. Paul calls us – we who have been reconciled to God through the saving action of his son – now to be ambassadors for Christ as we share God’s message of love and forgiveness.

As we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, giving thanks to God today especially for his mercy and forgiveness, let us make sure that we are always clear signs of his mercy and forgiveness in our daily lives as well.  That’s how we become instruments of God’s peace.  Remember that when you hear the priest send you off at the end of Mass with: “Go in the peace of Christ.”