“God has reconciled us to himself and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:18)
Today’s scripture is best heard in the context of the Covenant God made with Israel in Sinai. God said to Israel, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” This is a covenant between unequal partners, a sign of God’s benevolence. It is bilateral: each member has sacred obligations sealed in blood. God asserts, “I will be your saving God, as I liberated you in the Exodus, and you will be MY people, faithful to that dignity!” God promises to be faithful to us, and Israel (we Israel’s Christian successors) is God’s chosen people … of the family of God … made in God’s image. Being faithful to that ‘family bloodline’ means we are to re-present God as we go about our daily rounds. We witness to what God is like.
Today’s first reading is taken from the prophet Micah, a sharp-tongued prophet who had it in for the rich and powerful, especially the corrupt priests and judges who preyed on the people with arrogance and oppression. Micah really lashed out at these imposters who violated their half of the Covenant.
Today’s Gospel has that same trajectory. It is ‘in your face’ as it were. Jesus is trysting with tax collectors and sinners. Horrors! If Jesus were a holy man, insisted the Scribes and Pharisees, he wouldn’t be seen within a mile of those disgusting sinners! “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!” which says, he is one of them … not one of us.
Jesus responds with the parable of the Prodigal Son. Now parables were always a stunning rebuke to the audience to whom Jesus was speaking … the Scribes and Pharisees, the kind of folks to whom the prophet Micah would have given a tongue lashing. Jesus uses parables rather than tongue lashings. You know the story of the parable, the loving and forgiving father laid out the best he had for his greedy, sinning son, a largesse embrace as the son came crawling home. In the setting of the parable Jesus was also trysting with folks something like the corrupt son, tax collectors and sinners.
Jesus is ‘in the face’ of the Scribes and Pharisees as he uses this parable to slam their arrogance and fraudulent pretentiousness. Jesus is saying to them, “Of all people, you who should be re-representing God, are violating the sacred Covenant our Jewish nation has been given by our ever-loving God. Shame on you!” (It’s behavior like this that got Jesus crucified.)
We have two big take away’s in today’s readings: God always has an embrace ready for us, even in our most unfaithful moments; that’s the very nature of Divine Love. Secondly, if we are to re-present God, we will have that embrace ready too, especially for those persons who don’t deserve it, but who need it. Jesus trysted with the most revolting people of his day. His last word to us found in the final lines of Matthew’s Gospel tells us to do the same, and Jesus adds, and “Know that I am with you always until the end of time.” So we have what it takes to have that embrace ready.
JOSHUA 5:9A, 10-12 ● PSALM 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7 • 2 CORINTHIANS 5:17-21 • LUKE 15:1-3, 11-32