St Stephen Lewisham
10th March 2013
Today’s Second Reading and Gospel are about Reconciliation. In the parable, the younger son and his father were reconciled to each other – but not the elder brother.
To many people’s minds the word ‘Reconciliation’ is another way of describing a Compromise. Now, Reconciliation often does involves Compromise in order to be effective (or even achievable); but the two things are quite distinct from each other. Besides, in English the word ‘compromise’ has several other shades of meaning. But let’s stick to the first definition in my dictionary, which says that “to compromise is to make a deal between different parties where each party gives up part of their demand”: so, for example, if two people help to discover a hidden treasure, a compromise might consist in dividing it in some way between two of them rather than that awarding it all to the one who first laid hands on it.
But Reconciliation involves so much more than reaching a gentleman’s agreement about dividing things up. In book-keeping, ‘reconciling’ means making two quite different columns of figures, credit and debit, add up to the same amount. If they are different, then someone has ‘done his sums wrong’. In marriage-guidance, reconciling isn’t a matter of dividing anything, but rather of bringing an estranged husband and wife back together. In legal terms, when two differing witnesses contradict each other, ‘reconciliation’ consists is a matter of deciding which, if either of them, is telling the truth about what – and of course, the two accounts may both be false or mistaken!
‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself’, St Paul tells us. In Jesus’ parable the task of Reconciliation was 99.9% the result of how the father treated the younger son.: He ‘saw him afar off, ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. Deaf to the latter’s protests that he was ‘no longer worthy to be called his son’ he ‘called for the best robe and put it on him, a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet’.
So apart from deciding, for reasons of sheer hunger, to go home to his father, the younger son did absolutely zilch to bring about their reconciliation – it was all dad’s work, and we can easily imagine how peeved his elder brother was that their father should let him off so lightly.
But that’s precisely how God reconciles us, and the world we inhabit, to Himself. He gave us His Son, to the end that all who believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life’ as St John says. That’s the reason why we should particularly beware of behaving like the Elder Son, who so deeply resented their father’s generosity and big-mindedness towards his younger brother.
The Christian life isn’t just a matter of being reconciled to our Creator. We need to be reconciled to our older and younger brothers in the faith as part and parcel of the ‘deal’ – which includes our being reconciled both to those who have sinned against us (and thereby ‘fallen short of the glory of God but to our elder brothers and sisters in the faith who sometimes talk about our shortcomings behind our backs.
In some ways it’s easier to be ‘reconciled to God’ than to our fellow-Christians. For, not only does He run towards us and shower us with gifts beyond what we either desire or deserve, but, being God, and not man, He is infinitely easier to deal with.
He sets no preconditions on His forgiveness of us, other than that we, in our turn, should forgive our fellow-men for anything they have done, knowingly, or otherwise, against us – whereas instead, we, and our fellow-men insist upon demanding of an exorbitant price, in the form of apology, repentance and humiliation, before we are prepared to forgive each other.
We really should be prepared to ‘take a leaf or two out of God’s book’, should we not?
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