The sheep rescued, the drachma found, the son pardoned, always.
Today’s Roman liturgy tells about the parable of the prodigal son and the merciful Father. In the Gospel of Luke this parable comes after the one of the lost sheep, found and carried back to the pen on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd, and the one of the drachma that was lost and was found again. (The drachma was the equivalent of a dinar that was the salary of a day of work, as we learn in the parable of the workers of the eleven hour).
The purpose of these three parables is to make us aware that our salvation comes from the fraternity of Christ, who carries us on his shoulders, from the maternity of the Church, who is always looking for us and from the paternity of God who always welcomes us.
In fact if we acquire the Body of Christ, He carries us back to the pen of communion on His shoulders, like a good and brotherly Shepherd. If we accept the maternal solicitude of the Church, who looks for us in the same way the woman was looking for her lost coin, we become part of her treasure. If we believe in the reconciliation with God who welcomes us as a loving father, God’s home become our home as his children. (Saint Ambrose, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke,XV).
The most important thing is to let us be found like the sheep and the drachma and to let us be pardoned like the prodigal son.
To do so we must bleat like the lost sheep whose cry was heard by the shepherd looking for her and who removed her from the brambles. We must be still and patient so that the mother can find us. We must have confidence in forgiveness to be able to return to the Father whose cry becomes joy. In fact what is the value of a sheep compared to a son returned to life or to a man who is saved? What is the value of a drachma compared to a sinner that regains sanctity?
The revelation of God as Father is one of the greatest novelties of the gospel of Christ. God is a Father and He loves us in the same way a father loves his children, not in the way a king loves his subjects. He gives to all their daily bread and welcomes with joy even those who have sinned when they come back to put their head on his chest. He is a merciful Father, and a King of tender compassion.
Mercy, an etymologic explanation, but not only that.
The word “mercy” is used to translate the Greek word “eleos” that we still use in the liturgy to ask for God’s forgiveness. The Greek word is the translation of the two Hebrew words hesed and rahamin. Hesed means “responsibility of one’s love” or the responsibility that comes from a commitment, from a loyalty towards oneself and consequently towards the person to whom we have made a commitment. In our case it is the responsibility that the God of the Covenant has of his own love, offered and agreed. It is a responsibility which requires the human answer but goes above and beyond the possible infidelities of mankind. Hesed is gift, loyalty and pardon.
Rahamin refers to the maternal wombs that “are moved by their own fruit”, the child and prevent the mothers from forgetting. The passage of Isaiah 49:15 “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you” is the most known biblical line where an attitude more than maternal is attributed to God. In general rahamin means “the tender place of a human being.” It means “to feel or to know to be an entity with the others. It describes the sense of the intimate union between a father and a mother and their child, of brothers and sisters, and of spouses”. According to Bultman – who gave this definition in Kittel-The great lexicon of the Old Testament – the simplest way to translate it would be “love”.
To end this etymologic parenthesis, the term eleos used by Saint Luke in his Gospel is translated with mercy. This “mercy” refers either to the grace of the Covenant and to the tenderness of paternity (maternity) of God (John Paul II’s encyclical Dives in Misericordia No. 5, note 64, points out this richness of terminology).
The word “mercy’ (from the Latin misereor, I have compassion and cor, cordis, heart) which means to have the heart moved to compassion by the misery of the other, translates very well the Greek word and the two Hebrew words because it emphasizes the perennial tenderness and the loyalty of God towards his children. God is loyal. Saint Paul writes that even if we are not loyal to Him, He remains faithful to us because He cannot deny himself (2 Tm 2:13).
The experience of paternity in a family is fulfilled in the company of the children and in a discreet fidelity, always ready to intervene and vigilant towards them. What we continuously learn from the immense paternity of God with us is a faithful company to the extent of pardon. This is what Paul Claudel writes in “The tidings brought to Mary” when the old father Anne Vercors says to his daughter Violaine: “A Father’s love asks no return, and the child has no need either to win or merit it: as it was his before the beginning so it remains his blessings and his inheritance, his help, his honor, his right, his justification.”
What a joy is to have a Father whose tenderness and forgiveness are a certainty. Let’s pray so that we can become aware to be the children of a Father that does not do anything else than love and pardon us.
The joy of the pardoned son and of the healed blind man.
The prodigal son didn’t come back because he was tired of taking care of pigs and of eating acorns. He was hungry for the bread of joy that only the Father could have given to him. He went back to “the truth of himself” (Dives in Misericordia No. 6) because he understood the human dignity to be a son. When he returned home his father embraced him and, putting his hands on his shoulders, blessed him welcoming him in his peace.
The soul of that errant son could not find peace in anything, his body could not rest under any tree and a heart which is always disillusioned and in search cannot find peace in any good, joy in any pleasure, happiness in any achievement. However in receiving the benediction of the Father’s forgiveness, the son who has wasted all returns home and for him the Father immediately organizes a banquet offering the best of his lambs and the bread of joy.
Happiness comes from the experience of being loved and from the acceptance of the divine love that nobody deserves. For God our sin is not an objection to forgive us as it must not be for us to ask humbly for his mercy.
It is a forgiveness that helps us to believe and to grow in faith as it was for the blind man healed by Christ, as we read in the gospel of the Ambrosian liturgy.
Let’s identify ourselves with this blind man and let’s imagine what was the sight that opened in front of his eyes when for the first time he could see a human face, the sunlight and a new world, never imagined. He was immersed in this world but he was living in darkness. If we want to better understand the joy of the blind man who finally could see, let’s observe the toddlers who look at the world with wonder and every day discover new beauties. Let’s not suffocate in us this wonder and we will be able to live. In this regard Saint John Damascene says “Concepts creates idols, wonder creates life”
It is a life to be lived with God who offers us a covenant of love that is a bond of love that makes us happy. It is a love that has all the characteristics of every love, of a filial love by men and of a paternal love by God. It is a love of friendship because Jesus is our brother. He became our brother. It is a spousal love for God who is the groom for the Church who is the bride.
It is a life to be lived in God’s light, the spring of a happiness which is full because we experiment it in somebody not in something, in someone by whom we are loved and whom we love.
The Consecrated Virgins are an example in this answer of love. They fulfill it in a complete way in giving their life and in becoming happily icons of Christ. They are the examples of a happy consecration to truth and to love.
The woman who is consecrated to the “Perfect Love” (Rite of the Consecration of the virgins #55) that doesn’t leave anybody without his light, and to the Life that is the drastic joy of being, responds to the task of being the living prophecy of the “kingdom” of charity to which we all are called.
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Jos 5:9a 10-12; Ps 34: 2Cor 5:17-21; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32
Sunday of the blind man
Ex 17:1-11; Ps 35; 1Thes 5:1-11; John 9:1-3b
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Monsignor Francesco Follo is permanent observer of the Holy See to UNESCO, Paris.