I was asked after my sermon what should
a person do who cannot forgive? Is it impossible to say then, in the
Lord's prayer, ‘Forgive as I do’? Indeed, we can turn to God, and if we
have not got the courage to say these words, forgiving with all our
strength, all our ability to our neighbour, we can at least say, ‘Lord!
With all my awareness, with all my heart I wish I could forgive —
forgive me, Lord, for that at least, and give me to grow into such a
maturity of soul, to understand what tragedy it is to be separated from
my brother, that I may say, one day, with all my heart, all my mind, all
my being: Indeed I forgive!
Today's Gospel speaks of something quite
different; one could say that the Gospel comes under the words of the
Psalm, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy”. Think of the prodigal
son; it speaks to us not only of sin — and indeed, it does — not only of
brokenhearted repentance — as indeed it does — but of the glorious,
exulting joy of reconciliation.
The son comes home, and the father is
waiting for him, has been waiting for him all the time this son of his
was away, forgetful of home, forgetful of his father, forgetful of his
own honour and dignity. At no moment had the father forgotten, all the
time the son was away from the father, the father followed him with his
heart and his love. And he knew something very tragic, which neither the
young boy nor his older brother understood.
The son went away rejecting his father,
saying in the first place to him, “I cannot wait long enough for you to
be dead for me to be able to enjoy life to the full! Let us agree that
you are, as far as I am concerned, as though you were dead. I don't need
your life — I need your goods; I need the fruits of your life that I
may enjoy life.” That was the beginning; and then, it was years perhaps,
a long time, unspecified.
And in the life of each of us it is
unspecified when having received from God all that God can give us, we
spend it, living in a way unworthy both of God and of ourselves; until
one day we come to a point when hunger comes upon us. In the case of the
boy of the parable, of course it was physical hunger, physical misery;
but there are other ways in which hunger comes: the hunger of
loneliness, the hunger of rejection, the dark hunger that assails the
soul when we become aware that we are dead, that the spark of life has
died in us, that no joy is left, that nothing is left, except not only
the possibility but the cruel necessity of existing when life has
already gone; no longer alive — dead, and yet existing.
This is the condition which the father
recognises when he says to his servants and then to the older brother:
“My son was dead, and now he is alive.” And we have examples in the
Gospel, in the New Testament of what this deadness means. Remember the
woman taken in adultery: she lived, she sinned, she was happy; and one
day she was found out. Then she discovered with horror that the Old
Testament Law commanded such as she to be stoned unto death. And of a
sudden she realised that sin and death were one and the same thing; she
understood that because she has been dragged to her own stoning, to her
own death, and there was no other reason but her sin for it.
The father understood this — that sin
kills: kills joy, kills life, kills relationships, kills everything, and
there is only one way in which life can come back: awareness, and a
return, a reconciliation.
In the story which we have read today,
the son came back to his father, he came back home, that home he had
rejected, contemptuously, this life he had rejected contemptuously; and
because he had come home, life could well up again. Yes indeed, he has
sown in tears, and now it was joy, resurrection! Can we imagine what
Lazarus felt when he came out of the grave, alive but with a new
experience: he knew what it meant to be dead, and now he was alive
again! That is what this boy felt: he knew what life was dead,
destroyed, hopeless, without a father, without a home — and now he was
back: he had a father, he had a home, he had love, he was acknowledged.
More than this: no one waited for him to come and eat humble pie; no one
expected him to humiliate himself: the moment he appeared, the father
ran to meet him, embraced, brought him back — isn't that a wonder!?
Isn't that both the resurrection of the sinner and the resurrection of
the father! The father was also wounded unto death by the rejection, by
the betrayal of his son; and now, he could breath deeply, his heart
beat, joy was in the heart, he had become aglow with joy and new life
because the son had come back.
This is something which the older son
did not understand, because he did not love his brother much; he was
just a brother as others were workers on the farm. The father loved. The
older son had never perceived that the boy had died by turning away from
all that was love; he had never perceived, what he felt was that here
was a young man who had left home to enjoy himself as best he could;
perhaps, was he jealous of him? He certainly despised him, he certainly
had no compassion. And then the boy was back: how differently did it
matter to the older son and to the father...
So, let us think of our return to God
and our return to one another in repentance or, if you prefer, to be
reconciled, to become again one, to atone, in terms of joy, of victory.
It is a miracle of joy that conquers, a miracle of love that is
resurrected, the faith of the one who comes in repentance and find that
he can be loved in spite of all, and the joy of him who can say:
“However far my son, my daughter, my friend has gone away from me, he
believes in my love — o, the wonder of this!”
Let us therefore think of the coming
Sunday of repentance in the terms of the wonder of reconciliation, of
giving back life to the person whom we will forgive, and receiving life
from the person who will receive us. And then indeed the words of the
Gospel will be fulfilled that there is more joy for one sinner that
repents than for all the righteous people who need no repentance.
Because the one was still alive, perhaps plodding along, half live, half
dead; and the other one was dead, and a word came, and he came again to
Let us all give life to one another, receive life from
each other — and rejoice in this victory! Amen!