The Prodigal Son & the Father’s Mercy

Last weekend, the Gospel at Mass (assuming you weren’t hearing the readings for Year A for the RCIA Scrutinies in your parish) was the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Yesterday morning before work, I was enjoying a cup of coffee at the neighborhood coffee shop and knocking out a ton of email while overhearing the conversation of some other men about James’s words on faith and works. The conversation took its usual turns towards justification and then reconciliation.

I smiled and remembered the Gospel reading when one of the men started talking about how his children are of his blood – regardless how far they run, or what they do in life, it doesn’t change the fact that they are his children, and he sees being God’s child, born into the family of God through Baptism, as the same, eternal, blood relationship.

Imagine my surprise also, then, when the reading last night at evening prayer was James 2:14, 17, 18: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. Indeed someone may say,’You have faith and I have works.’ Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.”

Now it’s dangerous territory to mix these two stories – the Prodigal Son and the Faith/Works discussion, but something about them came together in my mind the last few days, as they came together in the discussion the men were having at the coffee shop yesterday.

The Son Who Runs…

I’ve been considering whether to share the images I’m about to share, but they’ve been stuck in my mind as I have been thinking about the Prodigal Son and the conversation I heard yesterday. Our oldest son Thomas was mad at me on the morning of Valentine’s Day for disciplining him when he was retaliating against one of his brothers for something that they had been doing. As a result, he drew us this “Valentine” and gave it to us at breakfast…

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First, I have to acknowledge some readers’ shock and horror at this. But I also have to remind you that the Halbrook house is a perfectly normal house of human beings with ups and downs, goods and bads, just like every other home and family. We have our moments, just like every family.

Thankfully, the storm of emotion passed quickly through our house that morning, and by afternoon all were reconciled, Thomas wasn’t packing for a foster home, and we were having a wonderful time as a family again.

The Merciful Father

But I remember the point that the other man made over coffee yesterday morning… regardless how far his children might run, they are still his children.

We still want the best for our children, we’ll still pray for them and their return to right relationships. We still want them “under our roof” (or at least in a place of safety).

We’ll still welcome them home and back into our loving arms.

The Need for Return

Looking at this from the point of view of the son, though (and this is where the Prodigal and Faith & Works start to mingle in my mind), the father can’t welcome him home unless he returns home.

I left the coffee shop yesterday morning pondering whether God would trump our free will and pull us back into His saving grace even if we wanted to stay separated. God is the all-merciful Father of all. But would that be true mercy? Or would that be something else? There’s something in the fact that God’s grace, mixed with our free will and conscious choice to exercise that grace, impels right action.

The prodigal returns home.
The good son shows his faith through works.
All is right and well.

But mixed in that swirling set of readings and conversations the last few days, I’m still pondering… isn’t James onto something?

God moves first.
God loves, and God shares his grace.
The Father is merciful and waits at the edge of the homestead with open arms.

But don’t we have to act too?
The grace inspires works.
The son runs home before it’s too late.

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