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Gospel commentary: Parable of the amazing father


Words cannot express the full beauty of God’s mercy, poured down upon us through the life and love of Jesus Christ by the strong arm of our loving Father.

Jesus proclaims to the world the tender mercy of the Father through his own merciful heart; he reaches out to the downtrodden through his parables, preaching and generous offers of forgiveness to everyone who draws near.

One of the most important tasks Jesus came to accomplish was to reveal the face of God the Father. As the Eternal Son, this was not a hard task for Our Lord. To gaze upon him was to gaze upon the face of the Father. When the apostle Philip asked Jesus, who spoke so lovingly about the Father, “Lord, show us the Father,” Jesus responds: "Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, `Show us the Father'?” (Jn 14:9).

The parable in today’s Gospel, commonly referred to as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, is a precious gem. However, I think that it is a misnomer and should be called the Parable of the Amazing Father. Jesus describes a father who does several things extraordinarily out of character for fathers in that culture and time period. First, the father divides his property and gives half to his son while he himself is still living and in good health. Second, he catches sight of his son returning home while he was still a long way off, suggesting that every day he went to the edge of his property or town and looked into the distance to see if, by chance, his son was close to home. When the father sees his son, he runs to greet him. Men of a mature age did not run in that culture. The father also tells his servants to quickly clothe the young son with a fine robe, a ring and sandals. This act spoke loudly to Jews of Jesus’ day because any son who squandered his father’s inheritance would have been formally and permanently cast out of the family. Finally, the father goes out in search of the older son who refuses to join the celebration. The father pleads with him to come and participate.

Why would you not want to draw near to this father? Why would you not love this father with all of your mind, heart and soul? Why would you not give your life in service to this father in thanksgiving for his mercy, which is generous beyond comprehension?

The father’s amazing mercy demands a generous response.

St. Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians, recalls, “in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So, we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us.”

God is asking us to bring his message of mercy into the world. However, he really should not have to ask. It should be something that comes naturally to us, something we are compelled to do from deep within our gut, as the only response appropriate to the mercy we have received.

The woman at the well in John’s Gospel comes immediately to mind. After her encounter with Christ and his generous and tender mercy, she drops everything, leaves her bucket at the well and runs back into town to invite everyone to meet Jesus: “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did” (Jn 4:29). Critical to the Good News she shares is the fact that he addressed her darkest secrets and greatest sins in a way that set her free and gave her new life. Her message was so compelling that many came to faith in Jesus:  “Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified” (Jn 4:39).

This Lent, make the effort to gaze upon the face of our Heavenly Father by looking intently at Jesus. Let Jesus pour down upon you his tender, loving mercy. With joy and passion, become an ambassador for Christ and bring the message of reconciliation into the world around you.

Fr. Peterson is director of mission and development for the Youth Apostles.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019