Luke 15 with 2 Samuel 13-19Today’s gospel of the Prodigal son reminds me of the tumultuous relationship between David and his son, Absalom that is described in 2Samuel Chapters13-19. I noticed a parallel of the prodigal son and his father with Absalom and his father, David. The Old Testament of story forgiveness and reconciliation didn’t work and I think the NT parable can help us understand why. The prodigal son goes to a foreign land and does some pretty destructive things. Absalom goes to a foreign land because he has done some pretty destructive things. (Like premeditated murder!) Absalom is eventually pardon and returns home BUT David says, “Let him return to his own house, but do not let him see my face”. (How different this is from the prodigal son’s father!) It is assumed David did this in order to give Absalom time to repent. But rather than repentance it created resentments – Absalom is frustrated to not have access to the royal palace or perhaps even a fattened calf to share with friends. Because he does not recognize his own need for mercy and forgiveness, much like the elder son in Luke’s gospel, he is led not to repent but to resent!
Anytime we lose touch with the reality of our own sin and its potential within us, anytime we lose touch with the reality of our own goodness and potential for love, and anytime humility is not the central disposition of our heart, we have great propensity for harming others and our self. In Absalom’s pride and anger, he demands David to pardon him or else kill him – there isn’t much contrition when someone is forcing you to forgive them…the dispositions are all wrong! I suspect we too can sometimes ask for forgiveness in Absalom’s way. We can say sorry and then give excuses for our behavior, or worse yet; after we apologize we say what is wrong with the others behavior. So the OT and NT readings point out that there is a wrong way to ask forgiveness as well as a right way…our dispositions matter. The scene becomes quite dramatic as Absalom bows before his father and David embraces and kisses his son. Yet, Absalom has no compunction; there is neither weeping nor regret. We know how the story goes – full of betrayal and violence and Absalom takes his inheritance of the king’s throne before his father dies (like the younger son in Luke’s parable – demanding his inheritance while his father is still alive.) I think one of the things we come to terms with in our striving to forgive, is humility - that place where we realize that there is something greater than our self that is worth dying for. There is a quote that goes something like: If we don’t find anything worth dying for than we probably won’t find anything worth living for either. This knowing ‘something’ or someone in our case, greater than our self makes life on earth meaningful and gives us the courage and conviction to strive to die to self for Christ…and with Christ. Forgiveness is a form of dying to self. That is why it is so difficult but also why it is so important. Jesus gave us the perfect example and asks us to follow Him. When the father in Luke’s gospel forgives his son, he too embraces and kisses his son, BUT he does not put him in isolation, rather he throws a party. A big one! Forgiveness must allow us freedom to live again…for both parties...to be able to celebrate life together. David forgave but did not forget. He pardoned, but not with joy. He did not open a window for change in the relationship. But the prodigal son’s father forgave, forgot…and feasted! I suspect we too can tend to forgive David’s way. “Yes, I forgive”, but then we isolate; we don’t connect or reach out to the one forgiven again. Subconsciously we might be thinking “ I need to be cautious and protect myself because I expect they will to do it again”…and perhaps they will! But there is no joy in that act. Each time we have the opportunity to forgive another or be forgiven, we are bringing Jesus Christ into our midst, into our hearts, and into our world, and that should be a joy! We learn from Luke’s gospel, no less than from King David that what happens after reconciliation is just as important. It should be about consolation and not isolation; it should be about celebration and not separation. I was struck by the video we watched a few weeks ago about the religious sisters in Eastern Europe who were imprisoned during Stalin’s rule (Interrupted Lives Catholic Sisters Under European Communism). Their ability to forgive was remarkable. In one story I was inspired by the joy of the sisters who worked as slave labor in the potato fields. They worked extremely hard and through long hours in the heat. They were mistreated, and imprisoned. Then the film showed these sisters gathered in a circle singing hymns, laughing and enjoying each other – it was so selfless and each transcended their own sufferings. For me that was a perfect image of community and communion. To be joyful there cannot be bitterness or resentment…they forgave while still suffering and found hope, forgiveness, and freedom. It can really make us see how small we can be when we don’t forgive, forget…and feast with one who has injured us. Yet these women were tortured, humiliated, and put in solitary confinement for years and could say “I forgive them. They are my brothers. They know no what they do.” Nothing less than Jesus Christ’s example, nothing less than forgiveness and self-transcending love could have knocked down those walls of pain and shame to make way for peace and reconciliation. So how wonderful it is and how much joy there is in heaven when two people can reconcile the way the prodigal son and his father did. But sometimes we are dealing with Absalom (who lacked self-knowledge) or with David (who was unable to move from isolating to celebrating). When this happens we can take the lesson of those Eastern European sisters and realize I can only do my part in the forgiving but then I can live in joy and freedom because I know Jesus Christ’s cross has done the rest. His cross has filled in the gaps. Someone shared with me a quote from Pope Francis which I will end with: “God’s patience is His mercy…Mercy…this word changes everything… it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just…let us not forget this: God never wearies of forgiving us, never! So then, what is the problem? The problem is that we grow weary…we tire of asking for forgiveness. He never tires of forgiving, but we, at times, we tire of asking. “ (March 17, 2013 homily) When we believe in God’s infinite mercy, we will always be ready to forgive others and never grow weary. I would like to suggest that if there is anyone we need to forgive or anyone we have offended (whether yesterday or 20 years ago!), let us do some small, hidden act of love for them today. Let us put our desire for mercy into some concrete form of love. So do something like sweeping the floor in the name of peace and reconciliation. For it would seem a little ironic if we are praying for peace in Syria on the other side of the world, while we live side by side with someone who we refuse to be at peace with – that reconciliation would do more for peace in our world than anything else we could do! So let us do some little act of love for peace and ask God to bless it 100-fold…because God, our father, never grows weary of mercy…and so may we never stop asking!