God of Another Chance…always ready to welcome us home
“If you steal sugar from the kitchen again, I’ll give you a TGB or break your leg!” So yells Mum at one her children in the village (TGB = thorough going beating.)
It doesn’t seem strange for us to hear a parent threaten their child – it’s meant to frighten the child into changing their behaviour, not that the parent will destroy the child they love.
It’s good for us to keep in mind this parent/ child psychology as we listen to the First Reading today. Because, it’s somehow shocking to hear God threatening to wipe out the nation.
In our Second Reading, also, we hear St Paul talking about his conversion.
We remember that God had to “knock him off his horse” before he “came to his senses”.
I recall from 2011 or 2012, in Kionyo Parish while talking to a Policeman about my concern that some Police beat the prisoners or suspects: the policeman was very open and looked surprised at my naivety (means: showing a lack of experience, wisdom, or judgement), saying:
“But, Father, if you don’t beat an African seriously, he will never change his bad ways.”
Although I believe there are many, and better, ways to encourage change in people, this “violent” and “threatening” ways of correction were prevalent in the past, and the ancient Bible had to use local context when forming the words spoken by God.
However, the Gospel, reveals a new way of bringing change into a person’s life. The Prodigal Son parable reveals the true heart and mind of God: It’s only through forgiving love that true change comes into the heart & mind of a person. And this is part of the reason why Jesus was rejected by leaders of His time: it’s not right!!!!!
Yesterday, by chance, while in one of Nairobi’s traffic jams, I saw a sign on the back of the bus: “God of another chance” and “in God we trust”.
The latter, not doubt, the reason why our bus drivers operate in a crazy manner!!
But, now, you might be thinking we believe in a God who is the same: yesterday, today and tomorrow. How can God appear so different between the Old and New Testaments?
Actually, God is the same in both Readings. The difference is the context: the young man suffered so much in that “far off land” before he “came to his senses” and returned home.
Likewise in our own homes, I’m sure we remember the different response to our misbehaviour: 1) if we approached Dad first: confessed and said sorry, then Dad’s response was much more gentle than if; 2) Dad discovered our bad actions before we said anything.
Even in our legal system, a Judge will be much more lenient on a criminal if they have voluntarily turned themselves in to the Police and confessed a crime.
In the First Reading, and St Paul’s conversion experience, there was no confession or remorse before God acted. God acted quickly to ensure that
their suffering “in that far off land” of disobedience would be short-lived.
So, now we know, we believe in a “God of another Chance”. What is our response?
Are we suffering “in that far off land” away from God’s love and encouragement?
Are we too busy “doing our own thing” instead of reflecting: WWJD (what would Jesus do)?
I encourage each of us to remember: that our deepest shame and fear always comes from our deepest and darkest secrets… from long ago or recently.
Have we approached God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation to wipe away our shame?
Perhaps you feel unworthy of asking forgiveness, knowing you will repeat the same sins, because they have become a habit? As Jesus says many times in the Bible: DO NOT BE AFRAID. The Prodigal Son certainly did not expect a kindly welcome by his father, but he had courage to return and say sorry, hoping for acceptance, even if punishment came.
Psychologically speaking, today’s Gospel is a gentle encouragement by God to “come home” and restart our lives afresh: ie. the way we think about others, serving others & generosity.
And, secondly, today’s Gospel is a model for how we should treat our “sons” when they come home and confess their wrong-doing. I’m still inspired by a family in Kionyo who welcomed home the Dad after his many years of drinking and neglecting the family. There was reconciliation and love shown as they cared for him in his sickness before he died. The sons in that family became the loving Father to that Dad.
Can we do the same? Or are our hearts full of resentment and bitterness like the other son standing outside the celebrations?
By Gerard Conlan, OMI