- Ryan G. Duns, SJ
While waiting at the doctor's office this morning, I began reading a marvelous book entitled Passage to Modernity: An Essay in the Hermeneutics of Nature and Culture written by Louis Dupré. I was grateful to have this book as it helped me to pass the time as I waited amidst a throng of coughing and sneezing patients (me being one of them). [If you're curious, I was diagnosed with "walking pneumonia" and put on a course of antibiotics]
The quality of a civilization may be measured both by the complexity of its ingredients and by the harmony of their order. The more diverse elements it succeeds in integrating within a harmonious and unified balance, the greater its potential and, usually, its achievements are. (29)
I refer to this because I think today's famous parable of the Prodigal Son is captured well by this quote. The Father in the parable operates within an economy very different from either son. The youngest son wants it "his way, right away." We know that this son squanders his inheritance and then, starving and envious of the food fed to pigs, realizes that he desires nothing more than to dwell within his father's house once more. The older son operates within an economy of resentment: the father's ready forgiveness is an offense to his "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" ethic.
Is it not amazing that the Father's house is big enough to accomodate both sons? Is it not equally amazing that the son who has stayed so very close to the father for such a long time is the one furthest away from the father's heart, whereas the one who has strayed furthest is, in a sense, closest? I cannot help but think my own Catholic Church fails to grasp this, with many commentators apparently so eager to decide who is "in" and who is "out" of the Church...even though, and not surprisingly, "in" usually translates into "agrees with me" and "out" means "I disagree"!
I think that we Christians fail, too often, to realize the revolution inherent in Jesus' words and deeds. We turn a parable like this into a pious platitude that short-sells the amazing and creative forgiving love of God. I guess we try to domesticate the saving power of God so that it doesn't challenge us too much to do anything extraordinary for the Kingdom.
Jesus' ministry demonstrates the shape God's Kingdom. God's mercy and love extends near and far, from the center to the margins, and draws all toward the Father's embrace. Perhaps today could provide an opportunity for considering whether we trust Jesus' teaching, whether we can imagine the wideness and hospitality of God's Kingdom, whether we can yield our hearts to being incorporated into the order of God's Reign. May we all reach out to the margins of the Church and invite others, through word and deed, to experience the saving love that is the Gospel.