To celebrate the Year of Mercy, declared by Pope Francis, and to celebrate the fact that Mercy becomes flesh in the Incarnation and is revealed at Christmas, I wanted to start with a reflection on the mercy revealed in the parable of the prodigal son.
We left the younger son last week with his decision to return home. We are told that “while he was still a long way off” his father comes rushing out to greet him, embraces his wayward son, and before the son can finish his rehearsed confession, the father puts sandals on his feet, a ring on his finger, and a robe over his shoulders. Each detail is significant. First, we have the fact that the patriarch of the family comes running out to meet him. We who didn’t grow up Jewish and are conditioned to slip into a pious coma when we hear this story often miss this point. It would have been considered a bit unsightly for the patriarch of the family to come bounding toward anyone, especially his son who had betrayed him and wasted his hard-earned cash. For us to get a sense of how strange it is that the father comes racing toward him, I like to compare it to a patriarchal image from pop culture. Ever see the Godfather, Part One? At the beginning of the movie, Vito Corleone is seated at a famous desk and at the celebration of his daughter’s wedding, people are permitted to approach the Godfather and present their request. The Godfather sits; you approach him. Here is how a patriarch was meant to behave. If you prefer a more biblical image, think of how Jacob and Esau, in competing for their father’s blessing, are to approach him with gifts and then make their request in Gen.25.
However, this is not the Father in the parable. This is not our Father. Our Father comes racing out to meet us, picks us up, puts shoes on our feet, a ring on our finger, and a robe over our shoulders. What do these details mean? In an ancient Jewish household, only children wore shoes. The slave went barefoot. Although the younger son hoped to return as a slave, his father bestows again on him the dignity of being his son. What about the ring? Rings today still mean authority and commitment, think of the bishop’s ring or a wedding ring. When the father gives his son a ring, he puts in him charge and commits to him a role in the convenant relationship (i.e. the family). Finally, the robe: the robe brings our thoughts to the story of Joseph and the “Technicolor Dreamcoat”. That robe signified what this robe also signifies. The robe signifies that the son is beloved, even favored.
So when the Father comes racing out to meet us, he puts shoes on our feet. He makes us his sons and daughters. He puts a ring on our finger. He gives us authority and brings us into his covenantal (family) relationship, and he declares us his beloved or favored child.
Jesus Christ is the one who tells us the story because he is the one who has come to reveal the Father’s Mercy. He is the Father’s running down to meet us. He is God with us, Emmanuel.
Christmas Message: I want to thank everyone for the kindness, generosity, and sign of God’s blessing that you have given to me these past six months. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year. May the God who reveals himself this season make himself known to you and yours. May he fill you with the joy of an increase of divine life and an abundance of divine blessings in the New Year. Merry Christmas to all!
Rectory Christmas "Wish List": I thought that I would put together a wish list from the rectory. This list is exactly that, a "wish list," so if you have a connection with the bearded guy in red and white, this is what the rectory would ask for:
- new tablecloths for the dining table in the rectory
- a clock radio for the basement laundry room
- I've been thinking about purchasing a new couch for the upstairs common room in the rectory, anyone want to help?
Homily Suggestion for this week: For Christmas, watch the first episode of Fr. Barron's Catholicism, it takes you through the places of the Nativity, gives you a chance to see the spot in Bethlehem where God was born. He gives you a compelling picture of the mystery of the nativity with a comparison between the baby Jesus and the Roman emperor 23 minutes in. If you only have a few minutes, go to minute 23 and watch for 6 minutes! All told, with the time to register, it would take you 10 minutes to complete this suggestion and help you dive even deeper into the Christmas Mystery. 1. Go to Formed.org, 2. Scroll down to "for individuals" and in the box for the parish code enter: WPK4JB, 3. Click "submit code," 4. Fill in the requested information in order to create a profile (this allows us to see who has registered and the value we are getting from it). The next page is "purchase" or "subscription," simply click "I've entered my parish code - take me to Formed." The access is FREE!