The scriptures show us that the disciples often did not fully understand the things Jesus was telling them. Remember the loaves and fishes and how the disciples reacted to Jesus when he told them to feed the multitude with three loaves and a few fish. They frequently failed to fully understanding the meaning of many parables so they often asked Jesus to explain the meaning to them. They never understood what it meant to be raised from the dead even after fully discussing it with each other. They were often confused and yet they followed in hope of one day understanding.
Do you think that when Jesus told the thief “today you will be with me in paradise” that the thief knew what he was saying to him? His words show us he had hope when he said “…we are guilty of our crime and deserve punishment but please remember me when you come into you kingdom.” I have heard those same words of hope from far too many good faithful Christians. We know how we have sinned and know we deserve punishment. We also want to know that God will not abandon us and he will remember us. We hope God will temper the punishment we deserve. The truth is our thinking like that shows how little we trust God will fulfill his promises to us.
God told us that by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we will not perish but will have eternal life. There is a condition to that promise and it is belief in God’s promise. So why is it so hard for us to believe in God’s promise of life eternal and so easy for us to believe in God’s desire to punish us?
Has our own desire for justice and the world’s concept of reward and punishment distorted our image of God? Do we fear punishment because we see God in the Old Testament quickly and brutally punishing his people for disobedience? How does that Old Testament image of God stack up with a loving, merciful, compassionate Jesus who told us “when you see me you see the Father?
God’s nature has never changed and if you take the time to read the entire bible you will discover a merciful, loving God. God does not and never has desired to do anything but restore us and have us enjoying his blessings each and every day. That is a spiritual truth that Jesus came to achieve and teach and we like the disciples have trouble understanding and accepting it because we want those who hurt us punished. This concept of rewarding the good and punishing the bad is at the heart of the story of the prodigal son.
We believe that God should punish those who have committed serious sins against us as that son did his father? Here is the problem for us since we do believe in reward and punishment; it is ingrained in us. We use and teach that concept in raising our children. We use that reward punishment concept in our approach to life, work, and play. We have been taught that sin is wrong, it must be confessed, overcome and restitution made to those we have wronged. We are so caught up in our own inability to forgive we find it hard to accept the absolute truth that God forgives and forgets.
There are just too many passages from scripture where God says he forgives and forgets for me to list. God plainly says time and time again in the scriptures he forgives sin and removes the guilt of the sin. So just accept that as a spiritual truth coming from the mouth of God and not Deacon Dave.
God also uses other metaphors to convey that reality to us. We can hear it voiced in the first reading today when God says “I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.” We do not have time to talk about their sin of failing to trust God but you can read about it yourself in the Book of Numbers chapters 13-14. What we need to see is what God offers us after our years of wandering in places where the blessings of the Father are absent.
I will restore the years the locust have eaten (Joel 2:25). I love the way God talks to us in these figurative stories of prodigal sons, wandering disobedient people and fields of what should have been fruitful harvests. He knows our hearts so well that he knows we have failed to comprehend that forgiveness comes without any strings attached. He knows we have the same basis of reward and punishment as the older brother had in the story. If you work hard and follow the rules you deserve to have a reward. Conversely, if you are a bum fluff like the younger brother you deserve to lose everything.
Here is the bigger question for us, what will we do with the forgiveness that is ours for asking and what should we do with our desire for justice for those we believe do not deserve forgiveness.
If we can trust God to forgive and forget our sins then we can begin to feel the Fathers arms surround us. That is the first step in our becoming a disciple instead of being religious. How we do that is given to us in the words of the prodigal son. Even the hired help in the Fathers presence have blessings that he is doing without, so let’s go to the father.
In your mind’s eye say these words to the Father; I have sinned against you and I want to be in your presence. Then you will discover the healing power of the Father’s love is life changing. We will then discover that we once again are sons and daughters, heirs to the promise. Stay there for a while in the Fathers embrace and you will discover a change in your heart that will impact of your ability to forgive as the Father has forgiven you.