Monday, September 16, 2013

Allowing God's mercy to prevail ultimately

The gospel text of yesterday’s Liturgy is one that is redolent with teachings of God’s unfathomable grace and mercy, which is constantly being offered to us sinful human beings.  Prodigal indeed is the carefree younger son, and so is the father in the story, who is constantly on the rise to go out and seek both his sons – the elder and the younger.  This father cuts a fine figure of a patient and forgiving, generous and lavish father who cares very much that his children experience his giving, non-judgmental nature.  Jesus was breaking the Jewish traditional mindset of how important it was that justice (demonstrated by right living and being law-abiding) made one worthy of God’s favour and mercy.

 This parable never fails to stir hearts through the centuries simply because in each one of us, there is an admixture of opposites.  We are on our best days people who do show the mercy of God in our patient ways with those around us who can make life a bit stressful.  At the same time, on our worst days, we seem to align ourselves with Satan and make the stupidest of choices where we come so close to denying the grace of our baptized life in Christ.  When facing issues of justice and fairness, it depends on what stirs our hearts, and we can easily put aside kindness and compassion simply because we fight for our ‘rights’ and what we think is ‘fair’.  

I was intrigued when I watched a short recorded lab experiment of how two very intelligent monkeys were given the same task to do – to give the lab assistant a stone from within his or her own cage which was placed next to one another.  Each time the stone was given when asked, a reward was given.  The reward for the first monkey was a slice of cucumber, which he took and ate happily.  But when the stone was asked of the second monkey, he was rewarded with a grape. 

When the lab assistant went back to the first cage and asked for the stone, this was given her, and the reward was again, a slice of cucumber.  This time, the monkey took the cucumber and threw it at the assistant, simply because the monkey in the next cage was given a grape instead.  I mused to myself that if primates have such an instinctual concept of justice and fairness, what more we sinful human beings when we are at our worst ‘animal-like’ behavior and are not aware of our call to consciousness to live at a higher, enlightened level?  Do we react like animals, or are we conscious that at all times, we are invited to act with thought, reflection and in response to our being made in the image and likeness of God?

When we read the story of the Prodigal Father, are we somewhat angry and resentful that the younger son ‘got away with everything’?  He didn’t even get a tongue-lashing!  What if this was Jesus’ way of preparing all of us for what awaits us in heaven?  Who we may meet in heaven may be the Hitlers, the Pol Pots and the Sadam Husseins who have made life absolutely miserable for millions but who were shown a tremendous dose of God’s infinite mercy, or on a much smaller scale, perhaps that annoying Catholic neighbour who had been living in such a selfish and even scandalous way each day, making the practice of charity something that was so challenging while on earth. 

We have to be prepared for the ‘worst’ in allowing God to be at his ‘best’ when it comes to whom he offers mercy and forgiveness to. 

Or perhaps we can identify so much with the older sibling who was already living in all that the father had, but wasn’t joyful at all.  I wonder if this could be reflective of the many unhappy Catholics (lay as well as consecrated) who although are already in possession of the kingdom of heaven in many ways, are still having a great difficulty in truly being happy simply because one eye is cast on their non-Catholic colleague or friend who seems to be ‘having it all’ and doesn’t have to live by Catholic rules and obligations. 

By no means am I a Universalist who thinks that at the end of it all, hell would be empty and even the devil will repent.  We have to respect the fact that for some die-hard atheists, the very thought of God being real can become for them something so contemptible that even the thought of heaven becomes repulsive.  For such people, heaven would be hell.  God would never force anyone to acknowledge and worship him. God is much bigger than that, and in his largess, he has to allow for weak human beings to want to remain weak and insist on making the wrong choices. 

In many ways, this rich parable is very close in meaning and teaching to the one in Matthew 20 where the kingdom of heaven is like the landowner who went out to hire labourers for his vineyard.  The twist in the end becomes the barometer of our sense of ‘justice’ when we react to what we think is fair or unfair.  It all boils down to allowing God’s mercy and kindness to prevail and that it is finally not about us. 

In our daily living, if we keep reminding ourselves that this world, our lives and our purpose of living is not about us, and that we have a task to glorify God in all that we do, it really will not matter much who gets ahead of us in terms of a ‘better life’. 

I am sure none of us wants to really live like that first monkey in the experiment.  Yet, I suspect that many of us haven’t quite fully evolved.


  1. Dear Fr. Luke,

    To put it plainly; NONE of us is deserving of God's forgiveness. That includes the 'holiest' of them as well as the most unholy amongst us. To be envious of another's good fortune, especially at having been forgiven, is to not to understand this at all. God's forgiveness, which flows from His immeasurable love for all of us, is given freely to those who seek it sincerely. That is why there is always a way back (to Him). Praise God!

    Btw, I would very much like to offer you my views on the parable of the prodigal son, with reference to something in your blog post, but it would take up too much space here; and I always try to make my comments as short as possible. Perhaps we could sit down over a cup of coffee someday and discuss this at length. God bless...

    Robbie J (the monkey who got the cucumber)

  2. C.S.Lewis taught : "When i have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, i shall love my earthly dearest better than i do now...."


  3. “..........yesterday’s Liturgy is one that is redolent with teachings of God’s unfathomable grace and mercy,......”

    The word itself – “redolent” is redolent of antiquity, evocative and suggestive of an old-world charm, of a fragrance, an aroma.........of God? I cannot agree with you more that Sunday’s liturgy is redolent of God’s merciful and compassionate love extraordinary love.

    Your post speaks to me as I happen to be reading Julian’s ‘Revelation of Love”.................especially noteworthy are these haunting lines.......

    “Would you know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well: love was his meaning. Who showed it to you? Love. What did he show you? Love. Wherefore did he show it you? For Love.”

    God bless you, Fr.


  4. Hi Fr Luke,

    Enjoyed reading! So funny and so true....I exercised my own discipline these last two weeks as an experiment, to see if I could fulfil my goal. The goal was simple. If I had nothing positive to say, I should shut up. Still trying, but getting better....God Bless You, Fr Luke.