The lost coin, the lost sheep, the lost son
We have had this parable in Lent is it may be familiar to us that we have heard it recently.
We all have family secrets that we are slow to tell outside of the family. A child born out of wedlock, abuse of one kind or another, a difficult marriage, a mental breakdown, mental illness, a child gone astray in the big city, in trouble, an addiction, a gambling problem, bankruptcy. If you have ever used expressions like ‘don’t let the neighbours know; ‘ don’t let the word get out around the parish’; ‘we’ll be disgraced’ you know what I mean. Up to recently at least as a society we did not do well in coping with a member of a family who got into trouble. We exported the trouble, found an institution at home or a discrete relative abroad, pretending it didn’t exist, or put another slant on it why a family member wasn’t coming home for Christmas. These are the skeletons in the closet.
A wise old priest once said to me ‘you never really know what’s going behind closed curtains.’
When we think of the fictional family in the parable – a father and two sons – we don’t know what the neighbours knew, but we do know that word got about so that the older brother got wind of how the brother was carrying on with women abroad.
There is no mention of a mother and so the family seems a bit incomplete and you can only speculate what things would have been like had a mother’s influence been included in the story.
It was an insult to a father for a son to ask his share of the will before the father’s death – as the younger son he was entitled to a 1/3 share, which he then squandered.
The older son would be entitled to a 2/3 share – the lion’s share – and yet he was resentful.
Resentment – literally means ‘to feel again’. I recently heard it defined as ‘poison you drink in the hope someone else dies from it’.
The resentful angry older brother who never put a foot wrong feels hard done by at the soft treatment the idle son is getting. If you are an older brother or sister you feel aggrieved at lenient treatment of a younger sibling. You think ‘I never got away with that’ or that ‘they are getting off lightly!’It seems unfair, and yet the Father says effectively – ‘let us count our blessings’. It does not seem a fair or satisfactory answer and we are puzzled.
Do we identify therefore with the joy of God’s forgiveness or with the older son’s hardness at the spoilt younger brother’s ‘getting away with it’ as a seeming double standard?
The lesson for each of us is realising how much we all are in need of God’s forgiveness. We have all been forgiven, many times. Let us rejoice that God wants to forgive wrong-doers and that he gives everyone the chance to turn back to him in good time to be home for dinner - the banquet of heaven - which awaits.
We are called to model ourselves on the father in the story and whole-heartedly forgive injuries and wrongs.LET US REALISE THAT WE WILL BE FORGIVEN IN THE MEASURE THAT WE ARE FORGIVING.