By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp
Homily for 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time - on the Gospel
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Mercy Triumphing Over Justice

Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14 1 Timothy 1:12-17 Luke 15:1-32

After going through the story of the Prodigal Son, a Sunday school teacher asked the kids, “At the end of the story who is it that ended up in the worst situation?” One of the kids shot up her hands and answered, “The fatted cow.” The animal-loving child was certainly correct, but the answer the teacher probably expected was “The elder son.”

There are three main characters in the Parable of the Prodigal Son: the father, the younger son, and the elder son. The younger son is a volatile, impatient, easily bored, ready-to-try-everything teenager. He collects his inheritance, goes abroad to see the world, and squanders his birthright in loose living. He represents every sinner. In sin we squander our human and divine birthright and in the end we are no better than in the beginning. Sin promises us a life of happiness, satisfaction and excitement but in the end all we get out of it is misery, wretchedness, dissatisfaction, depression, and a loss of the sense of personal dignity that belongs to us as God’s children. The good news is that no matter how deeply the sinner sinks into sin, there is always a still, silent inner voice within us inviting us to come back to our Father’s house where true freedom and satisfaction is to be found.

Then there is the father who is so loving that he lets his rascally son have whatever he wanted. In fact we can say he even spoils the boy. We have this image of God as a very stern, demanding father who is always ready to whip us into line. This is very far from the image of God we have in this parable. Here God is presented as a tender loving father who is easy on his children, and who is always ready to forgive, no matter what. If this is how God relates to us, then we can see that God possesses the tender-loving quality of mother as well as the tough-loving quality of father.

And finally there is the elder son who is introduced towards the end of the story. If you want to describe the elder son by one word you would call him a gentleman. He is a man of honour, solid, hard-working, consistent, disciplined, and sober — a perfect gentleman. In the elder son we see the virtues, as well as the vices, of middle class morality. What are the vices of middle class morality? Arrogance, better-than-thou attitude, intolerance toward those who do not meet up to our standards, insensitivity and a spirit of unforgiveness. The elder son exhibits these vices in the way he refuses to welcome his lost and found brother, his father’s explanation and invitation notwithstanding. He must have his pound of flesh. For him it is a matter of justice, but for God that is nothing but self-centeredness and unwillingness to forgive.

The first son syndrome is very much alive among us. Do you remember the execution on February 3, 1998 of Karla Faye Tucker. Karla was, to all appearances, a repentant murderer. At the moment of her execution there were two groups of people outside the Texas state prison in Huntsville: a group protesting her execution, who were there praying for her, and a group demanding her execution, who were there cheering and jeering as she was hanged. The praying group was calling for love and mercy and the cheering group was calling for justice. The parable of the Prodigal Son reminds us today that for God love and compassion takes precedence over blind justice.

We often confuse puritanism for Christianity. To be puritanical is to be scrupulously demanding in religious conduct and morals. For such a person the number one virtue is discipline. To be a Christian, on the other hand, is to profess and live according to the example and teaching of Christ. Here the primary virtue is love and compassion. As Christians we believe in a God of love and compassion. Jesus was a man of love of compassion both in his teachings and in his dealings with others. The challenge for us Christians today is to be people of love and compassion, to be like the prodigal father in the parable and not like the uncompromising elder son in a world full of prodigal sons and daughters.

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