The Father: Compassionate, Caring,
Challenging us to respond and reconcile, not retaliate.
Rick Malloy, S.J. - 24th
Year C Prodigal Son Sept 11, 2016
(prenote. I didn't say all of this in the homily...)
ather passing by his 16 year old son's bedroom was
astonished to see the bed was nicely made and everything was picked up. Then he
saw an envelope propped up prominently on the center of the bed. It was
addressed, "Dad". With the worst premonition, the father opened the
envelope and read the letter with trembling hands:
Dear Dad, It is with great regret and sorrow that I'm writing you. I
had to elope with my new girlfriend because I wanted to
avoid a scene with mom and you. I've been finding real passion with Joan and
she is so nice even with all her piercing, tattoos and her tight motorcycle
clothes. But it's not only the passion dad, she's pregnant and Joan said that
we will be very happy. Even though you don't care for her as she is so much
older than I, she already owns a trailer in the woods and has a stack of
firewood for the whole winter. She wants to have many more children with me and
that's now one of my dreams too. Joan taught me that marijuana doesn't really
hurt anyone and we'll be growing it for us and trading it with her friends for
all the cocaine and ecstasy we want! In the meantime, we'll pray that science
will find a cure for Herpes so Joan can get better; she sure deserves it!!
Don't worry Dad. Someday I'm sure we'll be back to visit so you can get
to know your grandchildren
P. S. Dad, none of the above is true. I'm over at the neighbor's house.
I just wanted to remind you that there are worse things in life than my report
card that's in my desk center drawer. I love you! Call when it is safe for me
to come home
Another story. Jim asks his teen age son about Spanish grade. I’m doing fine Dad. Two days later the report card comes. Jim runs up stairs. “Damn Jimmy.
I asked you about Spanish and you said you were doing fine. Now I see
you’ve flunked. What the hell?” “Gee Dad.
To tell you the truth, I didn’t want to get yelled at twice”
What’s going on in these readings? God is calling us to forgiveness and
reconciliation. Moses pleads
for the bozos who made the golden calf. St. Paul admits that he
was a horrible sinner and that Christ has come to save us all. Jesus tells the most famous parables of
all. We know it as the prodigal son, but
it would be better titled Two Lost Sons; One Incredibly Forgiving, Compassionate
and Understanding Father
awareness of cultural conflicts going on help us appreciate what Jesus is doing
here. He’s being attacked by the
Pharisees for hanging out with sinners.
So, he responds directly and strongly, insulting the learned and pride
filled Pharisees. Reference to shepherds
is an insult. Pharisees considered
shepherds “unclean, members of a despised and forbidden profession” (Pilch
1997:136). So when Jesus says, “Which
one of you having one hundred sheep…” he’s really giving it to
them. It would be like someone
addressing a bunch of Catholic Bishops saying, “Which one of you having one
hundred prostitutes…” To use the example
of a woman is also a pretty direct insult when directed at this group of
Pharisees. This was a world where women
weren’t even considered persons.
realize the parable of the prodigal son is told in a situation where people
don’t want to hear it. The Pharisees
find Jesus’ way of being religious offensive.
Jesus is all about forgiveness and reconciliation; the Pharisees are all
about enforcing rules and regulations, bolstering their own self-esteem and
sense of importance by being religious the “right” way.
son who takes the money and runs is a real mess. He’s squandering not just his inheritance;
he’s putting his father in jeopardy because his father may have no one to care
for him when he’s old. The son’s actions
insult and repulse not only his father; he alienates his older brother and the
entire village. That’s why the father’s killing the calf is so important. It’s not just a goat or a sheep, which would
be like serving burgers and hot dogs. To
kill a calf meant the whole village would feast; it’s like a big expensive
wedding party. The father generously and
emphatically announces to the world that the ruptured relationship with his son
is reestablished. His son was dead and
is now brought back to life. This is
more than the boy could have dreamed of or hoped for.
older son doesn’t get it. He insults his
father by addressing him without a title.
He sneers, “I have slaved for you…”
Has he worked for his father, or
just for himself? The older son
continues to insult his father by comparing the calf killed for the younger son
to a goat he never got (“MARCIA! MARCIA! MARCIA!” or whining “He’s your
favorite”). He slanders his little
brother by bringing up an unsubstantiated charge about playing with
prostitutes. The father addresses him
with a title: “Son.” The father invites
him to join the feast.
“The two sons in this parable are
essentially the same and equally offensive.
They differ only in their response to unexpected and undeserved love
demonstrated by their humiliated father.
Like these sons, all who hear this story must decide how they should
respond to forgiving love” (Pilch 1997:138
What was going on with the Son and why was the Father so forgiving? The
younger son goes off and gets all screwed up.
Soon he’s got a lousy job, hanging out with the pigs (today, to convey
the foulness of his situation, we’d say he’s eating spam and living in a
cockroach and rat infested apt.). In the
Greek text it says, literally, “he came to himself” and realized how
stupid and stubborn he has been. He
decides to go back and beg his father’s forgiveness.
father is waiting for him, sees him afar off and pulls all the plugs and throws
a party to welcome the kid home. Maybe
the father was feeling he hadn’t done a good job as a parent. Maybe he realizes he’d screwed up by giving
the kid half of the inheritance. Maybe
he realized he’s been too indulgent with the boy. Or maybe he knew the boy lived in a world
that mitigated against his growing happy and healthy and holy and free.
What does this say to us today? One key to the parable’s message is the
curious phrase describing the son’s realization of the way out of his
came to himself.” The root of
the younger son’s problem was that he had lost his self, or maybe he’d never
developed a sense of self, a robust confidence in who and what he was.
many young adults suffer the younger son’s affliction. Despite all the Mr. Rodgers’ messages of
self-worth and self-esteem, too many teens and young adults exhibit symptoms of
severe unhappiness, deep depression and a real sense of being lost.
15 years after 9/11 it can seem that our people in the USA feel unhappy with
our politics, are deeply worried about the direction of the country. We’re told too often and too loudly that we
Hope: If you are one of these people who feel lost,
there is hope. If you are one of those
who have been lucky enough to escape such a fate, don’t feel superior. You are called to show your “younger”
brothers and sisters the way. We are all
called to not be like the older brother.
We are called to be like the
Father. Caring, Compassionate,
Challenging. We need to come to ourselves. To respond and reconcile, not just “respond
and retaliate” as the Defense Secretary Ash Carter said this morning in NYC.
way is found in creating a good and just world for one another. America is great when America makes the whole
world great for all. The way is found in
knowing who we are and letting the wonder of our being fill us with faith and
hope and love. Stop looking for love in
all the wrong places. Start looking for
What if on September 12, 2001, we had
responded by saying, “We are largely a Christian nation. As a people, we want to respond to the
atrocities of 9/11 with forgiveness.
Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.
Pray for those who persecute you’ (Matt 5:44). Yesterday, those who desecrate the name of
Allah, murdered almost 3000 innocent Americans.
We will not retaliate in kind. We
will not allow terrorists to turn us into revengeful people. We do not live by the law of an eye for an
eye, for such a law leads to a world gone blind. We welcome and respect people of all religions
that teach peace, mercy, forgiveness and love.”
Such a response would have been truly
revolutionary. Such a response would
have made the ideologies of Al Queda and ISIS less attractive to young
Muslims. Such a response would have held
forth the possibility of peace. Such a
response would have saved us upwards of some three trillion dollars. And such a response would have saved the
lives of thousands and thousands who have died since September 11, 2001.
It is not too late to change our ways. We can peer into our souls and see things
afresh. In this Year of Mercy, we can
look on ISIS with compassion and love instead of fear and hatred. The young people in ISIS need to be converted
to the true meanings and values of Islam.
Deep in our souls we find a desire to treat ISIS as Jesus would. Rather than trumpeting the need to retaliate
with bombs and boots on the ground, imagine risking relationship with those in
ISIS rather than maintaining an eternal stalemate of us v. them.
When threatened with death Jesus said, “Put
your sword back in its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the
sword” (Matt 26:52). The Good News is
that we do not have to remain trapped and enslaved in modes of violence and
retaliation. We can choose to do things
differently. We are free to be loving,
peaceful and joyful. We need not cower
The crisis of ISIS is rooted in ideas of God,
who God is and what God wants. We need
to flood the Middle East with ideas that challenge ISIS’s misreading of the
Quran. Islam is a religion of
peace. So too is Christianity. It is time, and has been for forever, to put
down the guns.
Pick up the scriptures and start
talking. Stop fighting. Give peace a chance. Young, radical Muslims think they are doing
good by killing us. The more we kill in
retaliation, the more their insane misreading of Islam is reinforced. If we stop killing terrorists, it would force
those blinded by Wahhabist ideology to rethink their interpretation of Islam.
We should flood the Middle East with
ambassadors of peace. Get thousands of
young American Muslims, Jews and Christians to go there and engage the
Jihadists in transformative conversation.
You cannot easily lop the head off of someone who comes, speaks your
language, and simply wants to live in peace.
Let us strive together to bring justice and peace to those war torn
And if such ambassadors of peace are killed,
their blood will water the plants of reconciliation and peace. Where have we seen such before? When the child in the crib grew and was
crucified by the brutal Roman Empire.
Jesus’ death transformed our war, weary world. The true and living God would rather be
killed, than kill. Jesus shows us the
way to be truly human.
Can we dare to believe the radical Jihadists
are human? Can we see and trust that
deep in their souls reside desires for the same peace and order we desire? We must be courageous enough to go, extend an
olive branch, and say, “Let us sit together, talk and work this out.”
To some degree, we must admit we created
this monstrous band. Our disastrous wars
in Afghanistan and Iraq and our flooding the region with weapons have spawned
the terrorists bent on destroying us.
Honestly admitting our sins can lead to reconciliation. Asking forgiveness would signal to the
terrorists our willingness to change our warlike ways.
The only way to stop terrorists is to make
the terrorists want to stop killing. The
ideology of ISIS will wither if there is no enemy attacking. We need to disarm ISIS by taking away not
only their arms, bank accounts and lines of credit, but ultimately their reason
Israel too must practice peace. And wouldn’t Israel lay down arms immediately
if peace could be established and assured?
I can hear you now: “Father, this is
stupid. We can’t even imagine doing what
What’s the plan? What is the
alternative to practicing peace?
Endlessly wage war? Are the one
percent of Americans who do all our fighting going to be at war in Syria, Iraq,
Afghanistan, on and on, for the next five, ten, twenty-five, fifty years? Will we spend three, nine, eighty one
trillion dollars more and still not achieve peace? Is there any strategy to end this insane,
constant war on terror? Dare we hope for
and choose peace?
In response to ISIS, our practicing non-violence
and peace can end the conflict. With
such practices, Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and their followers changed
the world. So too must we. If we laid down our arms, true followers of
Islam would be required to do so as well: “If the enemy desists, then you must
also cease hostilities” (Quran 2:193) [Aslan,
Reza (2005). No God but God: The Origins, Evolution and
Future of Islam. New York: Random
House. P. 134].
Forgiveness, reconciliation, love and
justice, are the answers. It is not
crazy to propose that the practice of Jesus’ teachings are the solution to the
crisis of ISIS. Forgiving, reconciling, responding
with love, establishing justice, are the only strategic, safe and sane
alternatives (The section in italics appeared in the National Catholic Reporter
Feb 2016. https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/soul-seeing/mercy-can-overcome-even-islamic-state
heals and love lies in re-establishing relationships. We need to heal and strengthen relationships
with others, with ourselves, and with God.
WE NEED TO COME TO OURSELVES. WE
need to Wake up. Realize we are all the
loved daughters and sons of God who is love.
The way to do this is to pray. Real Prayer
forces us to get in touch with reality.
Real Prayer opens us to the transformative grace of God. Real Prayer helps us come to ourselves and
then we can do what we need to do to establish the relationships that make for
peace and prosperity, joy and justice, faith and freedom, hope and healing, love
and life. Dare to pray. Have the courage to pray. Pick up and read the Bible. Pray the rosary. Go to daily Mass.
Learn about the Examen and Centering Prayer. Risk
coming on the silent retreat this October.
lies in getting some time to reflect on who and what you are. Hope lies is “coming to yourself,” in the
hard, but so joy filled work of coming to know and love yourself. There’s a great person in each and every one
of us. God has graced us with his divine
presence living vibrantly and freely on the heart of each of us. We’ve all been given a marvelous gift:
life. Open the gift. Play.
Be Happy. Enjoy life. Live free.
your parents happy. Get a good report
Labels: 9/11, catholic, catholic social teaching, Christianity, Gospel of Luke, hope, Islam, Judaism, love, peace, prodigal son, reconciliation, September 11th