Today in his Gospel, Jesus tells a parable confirming the Pharisees were quite right to point at him and say, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
However, the parable asserts that God looks out for repentant sinners, welcomes them, and eats with them.
God and the angels throw a great celebration in heaven whenever even one sinner repents; and there is more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
However, since Jesus is pointing his finger at God in answer to the fingers the Pharisees have pointed at Jesus, the parable today claims that Jesus stands in the place of God, looking out for repentant sinners, welcoming and eating with them.
The parable today shows us a father who squanders extravagantly his reckless mercy on an entirely undeserving son.
God rejoices that the sinner who was lost and as good as dead through sin is now found alive through repentance.
Jesus has taken the finger-pointing of the self-righteous, and directed it towards heaven and back to himself.
In the name of the Father, Christ searches for repentant sinners, receives them with mercy in the name of the Father, and gladly eats with them in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
God welcomes sinners and eats with them.
With respect for this central assertion of the Parable of the Prodigal Father, we can go back through this parable and begin to recognize in some of its details some hints of the entire Gospel and life of the Lord, and even of the very Banquet of Mercy and Joy that we now celebrate at this altar.
To some extent, we can recognize Christ himself in the younger son who has come from his Father’s house to dwell here on earth among men, to squander himself here among us sinners.
While the younger son soon makes himself the slave of one of the local citizens, Christ has also come among us as a servant.
Whereas the younger son finds himself worse off than the pigs he is assigned to feed, Christ suffers the torture and death of a criminal, offering himself, though innocent, for the life and salvation of sinners.
The younger son of the parable, concerned that he might die of starvation, appears to rehearse a line that he’ll use on his father:
How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat,
but here am I, dying from hunger.
I shall get up and go to my father,
and I shall say to him,
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you;
I no longer deserve to be called your son;
treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”
In contrast, when faced with the prospect of death, Christ turned to his Father in true agony, but with sincerity and a pure heart full of obedient love:
Father, if you can,
take this cup of suffering away from me.
Nonetheless, not my will,
but yours be done!
In the Gospel, in the life of Christ, here in the Eucharist, and in our own lives, the Father in heaven, even when we are still at a distance, runs out to meet his children, embraces us in his Son, kisses us in his Spirit of unity.
He clothes us with his own royal Son, marks us with the signet ring of his Spirit, and has us walk in the shoes of his own Godhead.
In his mercy and joy, when we return to him through repentance, God prepares a feast for us— not a fatted calf, but his very self in the flesh and blood of his Son.
Christ— standing beside his Father and ours— Christ the Only-Begotten and Firstborn of the Father, says of us, “My brothers were dead and are alive again; they were lost, and now are found.”
The Father, too, speaks, saying to us, even here in the Eucharist, “Children, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”
This God of ours indeed welcomes sinners and eats with them.