Today’s gospel begins with the Pharisees and scribes grumbling that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them,” implying he condones the behavior of sinners. For Jesus, however, table fellowship implies full communion with him.
Their grumbling is the impetus for three parables that Jesus tells them – the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son and his father. These parables share a common theme: that which was lost is now found, leading to boundless joy and celebration. This is a joy that mirrors God’s joy when a sinner repents.
The story of the prodigal son and father is arguably the most memorable of the three parables. Moreover, it serves as a metaphor for the Eucharist and the life of the Church.
It is the father who sacrifices all for his two sons, however divided they may be. His gift to them is his love, his utter willingness to forgive, and to celebrate at the return of the lost son. He invites all to join in communion with him. Such is the gift of God in Christ in the Eucharist.
Our response should be the response should reflect that of the prodigal son – conversion, that is a return from our disobedience, from the “far country,” our return of mind and heart to the Father. In the conversion, we are reconciled to the Father and to one another. There is more. We are invited to the table, to celebrate with and to dine with the Lord. we are transformed in Christ when we receive the Bread of Life.
The Pharisees and scribes, like the angry son the parable, may grumble and refuse to join in the celebration. But like the father and the indignant son, he will never stop inviting even to them to the table. Why? Because God in Christ continues reconciling the world to himself. And like the prodigal son robed in the finest, He robes us in new dignity for the celebration of the Eucharist.
With arms as wide as the universe, God the Father is ready to embrace everyone with a loving welcome. No exceptions. God does not say you are welcome “if” you meet these standards.
We too are called to welcome others as we have been welcomed, and to forgive others as we have been forgiven. We who were lost have been found. It’s time to celebrate.
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.