The first reading from Micah is a prayer spoken when the people had recently returned from exile, were few in number and possessed only a fragment of their former land. It is a plea to God to take care of them and protect them from the hostile nations that surround them. Notice the tone of confidence. The prophet remembers “the days of old” and knows that his God is not like any other god. The people sinned and deserved the exile, but Micah knows God is merciful and God’s anger does not last long because God loves the people too much.
We, too, can be sure of God’s faithful love. God’s compassion for the sinner and God’s great desire to take the sinner back is graphically told in the extraordinary story of the Prodigal Son, the story of today’s gospel. It is a clear reply to the criticisms of the Scribes and Pharisees that Jesus was associating too much with sinners. In the story we read about the younger son who went far from his father and followed his own way. There was the other son who saw himself as totally obedient but did not have a forgiving heart. We hear about their Father whose love never changed . . . no matter what his children did . . . and was ready to accept them back without exception.
The Scribes and Pharisees simply did not understand the nature of God revealing Himself through Jesus. Or maybe they refused to accept this story that demanded change in their own hearts. It is never God who creates the distance. We are the unfaithful ones. When we perceive our sins this Lent, we need to remember “the days of old.” Our faith history reminds us that our God is a loving God who desires to forgive. We only need to make the journey back to God, who is ready to celebrate our return.
Fr. Don Webber, C.P., is the director of the Office of Mission Effectiveness and resides in Chicago.