Today’s gospel of Luke passage is like a condensed version of Luke’s earlier and longer parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15, 11-32). In both there is the righteousness of one, the repentant humility of the other, and between them, the loving and correcting presence of the Father.
The “righteous” in these two parables are quick to point out their stellar performance (I fast..I tithe; and in the parable of the prodigal son, I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders), and they are merciless in decrying the infidelity of their neighbor (greedy, dishonest, adulterous; and this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes).
Over the both of them is the correcting and loving wisdom of God as manifested by the dramatic conclusion of the parable in today’s reading: “I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Similarly the Parable of the Prodigal Son echoes this divine mercy: “But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”
How has this divine mercy been meted out? More generously than even the petitioner could imagine! In today’s reading, the penitent tax-collector cannot even raise his eyes, he simply asks for God’s mercy; in return he is forgiven and exalted beyond measure. The father in Luke’s parable of the Prodigal Son does not even give his returning son a chance to finish his prepared “act of contrition”; he cuts off the son’s apology and declares a feast.
When reading today’s passage from Hosea, we see that God’s desire for fidelity is not fundamentally fulfilled in our actions, but is first of all an expression of our love, a measure of our heart: “for it is love that I desire, not sacrifice.”
Our actions can be deceiving, even to ourselves. We can number our accomplishments, all of our successes; we can measure ourselves against those who don’t perform at our level of accomplishment; and we can assume our greater goodness because we perform better in church than others.
But God looks at the heart, God longs for our hearts; God longs to bathe us in divine mercy. Isn’t this the underlying reason for Lent? Isn’t this a time to convert our hearts from a catalog of our good deeds into a prayer of longing for God and longing for God’s mercy?
“What did you give up for Lent this year?”
“I gave up the comparisons that make me feel superior to others.” “I gave up justifying my pride and self-love, in order to ask for God’s continuous mercy to me, a sinner.”
What did YOU give up for Lent this year?
Fr. Arthur Carrillo, C.P. is the director of the Office of Mission Effectiveness for Holy Cross Province. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.