The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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March 23, 2001 Issue
Fr. Ver Bust's Column:
"Explaining the Gospel"

Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Fr. Richard Ver Bust

Appreciate what forgiveness does

When we come to realize what we have done, we can return to God

March 25, Fourth Sunday of Lent

By Fr. Richard Ver Bust

We saw last week that God calls upon us to live our commitment and will judge us with a tough love. Today's readings emphasize the wonderful mercy of God. So if we have sinned and have not remained faithful to God we can return to God and seek forgiveness.

The parable we hear today is one of the most familiar of the stories Jesus told. We sometimes call it the parable of the Prodigal Son but the real emphasis is on the father and, therefore, could be called the parable of the Merciful Father. God's goodness and mercy are powerfully portrayed in this parable. The younger son experienced that forgiveness when he returned seeking to find help in his loneliness and poverty. The elder son heard the father say, "Everything I have is yours." The parable teaches that the forgiveness of the Father should be matched by the forgiveness of others.

The center of the parable is the celebration that occurs when the Father tells the servants to make a bounteous feast. It would celebrate the return of the wayward son. But another element enters the story when the elder son refuses to come in to celebrate. He will not even call the younger son his brother. He is upset for he has never had a feast even though he has always obeyed his father. Jesus may be pointing to the harsh attitude fo the Pharisees and scribes toward those whom they consider sinful. We are not told whether the elder son ever entered the house to celebrate. We can only wonder and think about our own attitude.

The parable clearly teaches us something about God. The image of an elderly father who doesn't put any obstacle in the way of the returning son but in fact reaches out and embraces him tells us that God loves us beyond all measure. God respects the decisions of each son and does not force them to do what they should do. We are reminded that only when we come to realize what we have done that we can return to God. The Gospel puts it well when it says of the younger son, "When he came to his senses." This is the point at which that son understands how low he has sunk. This is what forgiveness is all about. One comes to appreciate what forgiveness does.

The reading from Joshua tells of the celebration of the first Passover after Israel's entrance into the promised land. It would be a time for rejoicing after a long time of wandering in the desert. Having their own land, a land said to be flowing with milk and honey, must have seemed wonderful after the barrenness of the desert. They were now a free people no longer slaves of the Pharaoh in Egypt. Every Passover from that time forward would recall what God had done.

The responsorial psalm is a thanksgiving psalm praising the goodness of God. It expresses that the person or community has been in distress and has been rescued by God. The appropriate feeling must be gratitude. So we hear God praised for being so wonderful.

Paul, in this letter to the Corinthians, recalls what has happened to his converts. They have been reconciled to God. But Paul points out that is only the beginning for now those who have been reconciled can reach out in a ministry of reconciliation to others. All of our readings help us to appreciate what God has done for us. There are real reasons for rejoicing.

(Fr. Ver Bust holds the title of professor emeritus in religious studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)

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