By Andrea Tornielli
“All that is mine is yours” (Lk 15:31), says the father to his eldest son. He is referring not only to material goods but to the sharing of his love and compassion. This is the greatest legacy and wealth of a Christian. Because, instead of measuring ourselves or ranking ourselves according to a moral, social, ethnic or religious status, we know that there is another status that no one can erase or annihilate since it is pure gift: it’s the status of children who are loved, awaited and celebrated by the Father”.
This is one of the reflections that Pope Francis offered today in Rabat during the homily following the proclamation of the Gospel when he spoke of the parable of the merciful Father, better known as that of the prodigal Son. It’s an uncomfortable parable for us today, just as it was for the men and women of past centuries. A parable that is difficult to understand and even more difficult to accept. Why is the Father anxiously awaiting the youngest son who had squandered and wasted half of the paternal riches he had obtained in advance of his inheritance? Why does the Father, with open arms, welcome that foul-smelling son who had reduced himself to tending to the pigs after conducting a dissolute life? Why does he organize a great feast to celebrate his return? Why does he almost stop him from speaking, from acknowledging his sins, from humiliating himself by listing them? Why doesn't he put him in quarantine, order him to do just penance, impose on him a period of re-education as we would have done?
The answer to these questions is within the heart of the message of divine mercy, which is free and superabundant. For God no one is pure or impure, but all are helped to rise if only they allow themselves to be embraced. A God who is not afraid to enter the darkness of sin, who seeks every opportunity to forgive. The divine characteristic of that mercy is far from our pettiness and from our calculations.
Let's confess: we can all see ourselves in the attitude of the eldest son who reacts badly to this gratuitous and overflowing love of the Father for the other son. That younger brother who knew the abyss of sin and came back home, not with the hope of being readmitted to his father's table, but of being with the servants of the house. And instead he was embraced, he went back - undeservedly according to human calculations – to be welcomed as a son, the recipient of a love that had never been interrupted and from which he, and only he, had wanted to recede.
In this parable, which is so difficult to accept for so many of us “elder sons and daughters” that consider ourselves superior and “in the right”, so different from “impure” sinners, there is a great teaching. The eldest son is called to participate in the feast for his ‘found again’ brother and he is called, above all, to acknowledge that his greatest inheritance and wealth is in being part of – and trying to make his own - this infinite mercy.