Today’s reading comes from Luke 15:1-32 (NRSV):
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
15 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
The Parable of the Lost Coin
8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
The Parable of the Prodigal and His Brother
11 Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 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. 13 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. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 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. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 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! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20 So he set off and went to 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. 21 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.’ 22 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. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 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. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 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.’”
This past September I came within ten feet of my hero. I got to watch as he beamed and waved and blessed the millions that had traveled from all over the world to see him. There were parades, concerts, speeches, and too many beautiful moments to count. But of all the things I saw Pope Francis do in Philadelphia, one very simple thing that he did has stuck with me.
He so visibly loved each and every person that he encountered, every member of every massive crowd. His calm, constant joy seemed to pervade the entire city as people laughed and cried and sang and prayed. Radiant hope was etched on every face. I wore my Pope shirt for 48 hours straight. It was totally awesome.
Pope Francis has spoken passionately about many things in his three years as Pope, but there is one word that he always comes back to: mercy. He has said time and time again that we as Christians must strive to be merciful as our Heavenly Father is merciful. How fitting it was, then, that on that beautiful night in Philadelphia we heard the story of the prodigal son.
A Baptist minister with a deep, booming voice read from Luke 15 and brought me to tears as he read one of the best examples we have of what real mercy looks like. I thought of all the ways that I am like the prodigal son, misusing and abusing the gifts that God has given me, and I thought of how undeserving I am of such awe-inspiring love.
“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.”
Before the son was even close to home and before he could even begin to apologize, the father rejoiced and ran to embrace him. How incredibly blessed we are to have a God that loves us like that; who loves us infinitely more than we or anyone else ever could. No matter where we are in our lives, God loves us more than we can fathom. And every time we turn back to Him, even if we’re still way off the mark, He rejoices.
More than any other reason, you were made for God’s unending mercy. And more than anything else, He desires a deeply personal relationship with you. With you. Not the person you might be soon or maybe were once, or the person you wish you were. With you, right now, with all your flaws and weaknesses and doubts. He wants all of it.
Give it to Him.
Ben Kelly ’17 is an Applied Math concentrator in Lowell House.