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March 2001

But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found. (Luke 15:32)

This sentence is found at the end of the well-known parable of the prodigal son and it seeks to show us the greatness of God's mercy. It closes a chapter of Luke's Gospel in which Jesus tells two other parables to illustrate the same thing. Do you remember the episode of the lost sheep and how the owner went to look for it, leaving the other ninety-nine in the desert? (Luke 5:4-7) And do you remember the story of the lost drachma and the joy of the woman who, having found it, calls her friends and neighbours to rejoice with her? (Luke 15:8-10)

But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.

These words are God's invitation to you, and to all Christians, to rejoice with him, to celebrate and share his joy at the return of the sinner who was once lost and has been found. In the parable these words are said by the father to his elder son. He had been with his father all his life but, after a hard day's work, he refuses to go into the house where his brother's return is being celebrated.

The father goes out to meet the faithful son, as he had gone to meet the lost son, and tries to convince him. But there is a stark contrast between the feelings of the father and those of his elder son. The father has unlimited love and a great joy that he wants everyone to share; the son is filled with contempt and jealousy towards his brother whom he no longer recognises as his brother. In fact, in referring to him he says: "this son of yours has devoured your property." (Lk 15:30).

The father's love and joy at the son's return highlight even more the bitterness of the other son, a bitterness that reveals a cold and, you could say, a false relationship with his own father. The elder son is interested in working and in doing his duty, but he does not love his father as a son should. Rather, we could say that he obeys him as if he were a master.

But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.

In saying these words Jesus warns you of a possible pitfall: that of living your life doing the 'right thing', based on seeking your own perfection, judging brothers and sisters who are not as 'good' as you. In fact, if you are 'attached' to perfection, you build yourself up, you are full of yourself, and full of self-admiration. You act like the son who stayed at home, who spells out to the father all his good points: "All these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command" (Luke 15:29).

With these words Jesus is opposing an attitude which sees the relationship with God as based only on keeping the commandments. This kind of observance is not enough, and Jewish tradition was well aware of this.

In this parable Jesus puts the emphasis on divine Love showing how God, who is Love, takes the first step towards each person without considering his or her worthiness. He wants people to be open to him in order to establish an authentic communion of life. Naturally, as you can understand, the greatest obstacle to God-Love is precisely the life of those who pile up actions and good works, when instead God wants their heart.

But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.

With these words Jesus is inviting you to have the same boundless love for sinners that the Father has. Jesus asks you not to judge the Father's love for each and every person by your own standards. By inviting the elder son to share his joy for the son who was found, the Father is also asking you to change your attitude. Practically speaking, you must welcome as brothers and sisters also those men and women towards whom you would have feelings of contempt and superiority.

This will bring about in you a true conversion, because it cleanses you from the conviction that you are better than others. It makes you avoid religious intolerance and opens you to embrace salvation, obtained by Jesus for you, as a free gift of God's love.

Chiara Lubich

 

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