Let the past go
4th Sunday of Lent
Given the number of relationships, in many of our communities, where people are divided against each other, or hold grudges for long periods of time, the ability for us to be like God and truly forgive (let the past go), seems to be needed more and more.
Today’s First Reading gives us the context in which we should reflect on the parable of the Prodigal Son. Paradoxically, during Lent, we think our biggest job is to ask for forgiveness and confess our sins and change our behaviour to be more like God: helping, listening, etc.
While the previous comment is part of the reason for Lent, it is only valid if it takes us to the more difficult, but authentic, reason for Lent: to become like God (the loving father) and forgive others from our hearts (not just our heads).
The First Reading begins by reminding us what God has done for us: (yes, even us, today)
“Today I have taken the shame of Egypt away from you.” Egypt is the place of “slavery”.
The First Reading continues: “On the [next day after] the Passover they tasted the produce of that country, unleavened bread and roasted ears of corn…” and “the manna stopped falling.”
The manna was an unsatisfying food that people in the desert survived on, but did not enjoy: it had no flavour and no “guts”.
In the Bible “that country” (the Promised Land), is described as a physical place. But for us, today, it is less about a physical place, and more about where we are in our mind and heart.
The metaphor of changing their diet becomes for us an invitation to change our way of thinking. When our mind/heart is in the right space, everything is beautiful. We can appreciate the good around us: the people, the environment, etc. And, most importantly, we can celebrate it all through expressions of joy and gratitude.
The journey from slavery was started by God, not by the people asking for forgiveness. Unfortunately, many of us who hold grudges, are so busy focusing on the wrong of the other person, that we don’t recognise how we have become slaves to our “lack of forgiveness” waiting for the other person to say sorry: to apologise.
What God does hear and see is the suffering of the people. This is the first clue in our journey to become the loving father: to have compassion on the person who has offended us. It may take some time waiting for them to experience the negative consequences of their action
What seems clear is that the compassion and tears of the Loving Father prepared his heart to forgive before the naughty son came back to ask for forgiveness.
The journey to move from “victim” to “loving father” takes time, and involves many grumbles (“why should I be the one to forgive?” or “will they really change?”). This is the experience of the people in the desert for 40 years. Hopefully we will be smarter/quicker!
The reason God wants us to make this journey is, first of all, for us: that we might escape from the slavery of worry and feeling sorry for ourselves.
The choice is placed before us in the parable: We can stand on the sidelines (the older son) angry at someone “getting off” for a bad action. Or we can be like the loving father, set free from the need to punish and hurt the naughty other.
May God bless our efforts to become more forgiving this Lent, remembering that forgiving is a decision not a feeling – feelings follow our decisions after some time. AND, forgiving does not mean things always go back to the way they were. It means, we are free to begin a new chapter in life.
It’s not an easy journey. But, rather than carrying bitterness in our lives, and always falling short of real happiness, let us be encouraged that becoming the forgiving Father opens up for us a place of joy and celebration: perhaps fine wine and cheese if that is more appealing to you!
By Gerard Conlan, OMI