Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock that belongs to you, which lives alone in a forest in the midst of a garden land; let them feed in Bashan and Gilead as in the days of old. As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt, show us marvellous things.
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of your possession? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in showing clemency. He will again have compassion upon us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and unswerving loyalty to Abraham, as you have sworn to our ancestors from the days of old.
Bless the Lord, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits. (R./)
He pardons all your iniquities,
he heals all your ills.
He redeems your life from destruction,
he crowns you with kindness and compassion. (R./)
He will not always chide,
nor does he keep his wrath forever.
Not according to our sins does he deal with us,
nor does he requite us according to our crimes. (R./)
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he put our transgressions from us. (R./)
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." So he told them this parable: ""There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.
"But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands." ' So he set off and went o his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate.
"Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.' Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!' Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 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.'"
Jesus told a remarkable story about a headstrong young man who demanded to get his inheritance early and then went off and wasted it by dissolute living. But when he hit rock bottom, the prodigal waster still had some hope that his Father might receive him back home. The Micah passage also talks about hope. The people of Judah have been "trampled underfoot," and driven off to a foreign land. This disaster was due to the people’s sins, insisted the prophet, and must not be explained just by the enemy’s vastly superior army. Even now that the exile has ended and the poverty-stricken people have returned to Jerusalem, they are insignificant numerically and economically. The prophet begs God to "show us wonderful signs… as you have sworn to our fathers from days of old" (v 15, 20).
The prodigal son survived on his memories and eventually plucked up the courage to seek a way back. He came to his senses because the remembered goodness of the father finally inspired the young man and overcame his wayward resistance. It feels as if the father’s desire had reached across miles and mountains to touch the heart of the son.
Our Church needs a new injection of courage and confidence. Trust in God’s care is a legacy we need to pass on to future generations. Instead of letting the tidal wave of media scorn sweep us away, let’s remember the recovery of the Prodigal Son. All of God’s sons and daughters are called back to the right path, to a joyful homecoming. We may ultimately celebrate with the father upon the return of the prodigal son.
Remarkably the Father says, "this son of mine was dead and has come back to life." Then he tells his elder son, "your brother was dead and has come back to life." There is more than one form of resurrection. The new life that we long and hope for beyond this earthly life can be anticipated in various ways in the course of our time here and now. In the parable, a kind of resurrection for the younger son took the form of a journey from a self-imposed isolation to an experience of community. His journey took him from hopeless guilt to being warmly welcomed home.
It was the father’s creative, unconditional love that raised Jesus from the dead. The parable of the Prodigal shows how God’s compassion is always at work, bringing people back from isolation to new life. In contrast to that father, the elder son considered his brother morally dead and would happily leave him remain in his self-imposed tomb. While the father’s response to his prodigal son was compassion, the elder brother’s response was rigid anger. The parable challenges us to embody in our own lifestyle the life-giving compassion of the father rather than the deadening anger of the elder son.