Can you remember a moment when you were rejected by someone you trusted? Imagine a re-entry from a distant country to your home country where you are denied access?
Today’s readings announce the good news of acceptance where all, irrespective of their dispositions are eligible to a warm re-entry.
During this Lenten period, eligibility to God’s mercy is more emphasized as the Church draws its faithful to the penitential nature of the season, to the Sacrament of reconciliation, to renewal, penance and hope. It’s an invitation by the merciful Father to an act of sincere contrition. A decisive moment to review our conscience and return to the boundless sea of God’s love and mercy.
The three readings combined, outlines the structure of re-entry from sin to grace, from death to life, from being lost to being found and from indignity to dignity. The first reading elaborates how God eventually led the Israelites safely to their cherished ancestral land in Canaan. It was a re-entry from slavery and indignity in Egypt to freedom: a significant era of their history after years of slavery. Those who arrived celebrated the re-entry to the promised land of plenty.
Similarly, in the gospel, Jesus responds to the Pharisees and Scribes question about eating and welcoming sinners by narrating the parable of the re-entry of two sons and their merciful father albeit differently. The younger son asks for inheritance from his father. The father respects his freedom. He then travels to a far distant country where he squanders it all in selfish lifestyle. In the middle of his suffering, he re-enters his inner moral life. He is conscience-stricken. He recalls how his father treats his servants with dignity. He decides to return home knowing very well he has lost his sonship, his inheritance and his dignity as part of the family. He is hoping to be accepted as a servant.
Meanwhile, the father keeps watching and waiting for the return of his wayward son. The father sees him from afar and is filled with compassion. He runs to embrace him with open hands. He makes a banquet in his honor. The elder son unaware of his fathers’ depth of compassionate mercy sees this and is indignant saying “I have been faithful all these years, you have not thrown a party in my honor.” He seemed to have a calm spirit before the brother arrived, however, as the African proverb puts it, ‘calm water does not mean there are no crocodiles.’ At the same time, wise men avow that faults are like a hill, you stand on top of your own and talk about those of other people. The elder brother wants retributive justice applied on his brother-he wants to see some kind of punishment. However, the father’s justice is different because it is based on mercy, love and forgiveness that leads to restoration. The father intervenes by re-awakening his conscience from a selfish spirit and rebuke to the marvels of a sincere re-entry of his lost brother who has returned, a dead brother who is alive and a repentant brother who needs love, mercy and restoration to the family. Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli Tutti, exhorts us to this kind of re-awakening to spiritual brotherliness, sisterliness, to the sense of one family of God, a reconciled human race. In this sense, God the father draws the elder sons’ attention to true repentance and reconciliation where the old passes away and we are recreated anew.
The gospel challenges us to never lose hope, but like the younger son, be genuinely sorry for our sins; embrace the father’s love and be spiritually restored back to Him. The confession of sin becomes the catalyst for grace as John 1:8-9 acknowledges, if we say we have no sin we are deceiving ourselves. Consequently, re-entry without repentance is not a spiritual restoration. It is the acknowledgement of sin which gives the power to a renewed change of the soul. The change that allows grace to transform the spirit. When we are truly contrite of spirit, the conversion experience becomes a divine incarnation filled with the fullness of God where we are invited to intimate communion with Himself and with one another. The father calls out, “return to me and I will return to you” Zechariah 1:3. “Then, I will restore you” Jeremiah 15:19. A continuous re-entry into our hearts and our conscience guarantees our reincarnation, our closeness to God the father. Correspondingly, we are called to re-enter severally into the father’s house and have a continuous celebration of every re-entry.
The overhang of the readings gives excursive methodology of re-entry. Jesus himself powerfully utilizes the parable to offer a spiritual structure of re-entry in a world where re-entry demands retributive justice intended to punish sinners. In this structure, it is important to know that God is always waiting and watching for the return of the lost. The repentant should recognize their sin and be genuinely willing to turn around. God mediates personally or through others to conscientize those who demand for retributive justice that they too need repentance. The re-entry becomes an unconditional reinstatement filled with festivity and thanksgiving. The imperative for all to be ambassadors of compassionate mercy, mediation, reconciliation, restorative and distributive justice that leads to full restoration to the family of God-one humanity is the rationale behind today’s readings.
This structure is in consonance with the synod of synodality that asks us to reconsider the structures that have long been in place such as retributive justice for those returning and evaluate them in the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The synod too challenges us to live our faith as ambassadors lighting the way for others by fostering reconciliation and inclusion where we all blend as one in the beauty of our diversity.
The question remains, which character in this parable would you most identify with at this time? Whatever the character, plan to re-enter your inner moral conscience during this season of Lent so that we may join in the celebration of good over evil-the Easter festivity. The good news remains that we are all eligible for Gods’ love, mercy, forgiveness and transformative restoration if we repent.
Anne Celestine Ondigo, FSJ
Anne Celestine Ondigo, FSJ
Sr. Anne Celestine Ondigo is a member of the Franciscan Sisters of St Joseph - Kenya currently residing in Perry, New York - USA. She is an educator who has taught for several years. She also advances advocacy for peace and justice both theoretically and pragmatically. Her advocacy in the field of peacebuilding is inspired by the values of the Catholic Social Teachings and those of St Francis of Assisi.
She is a former lecturer at the Centre for Social Justice and Ethics at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa and at Daystar University in the Department of Peace and International Relations. She has worked with Franciscans International in Geneva, advocating for human rights and peace for African countries by networking with human rights activists at the grassroots level to air their needs at the Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations office. At these forums, human rights records for each state is reviewed and recommendations made that end up shaping the states’ policies on the same ensuring accountability for respect of human rights. She also worked at the grassroots level in Africa with the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Africa Office as the Organizing Secretary. At that time, strategic objectives focused on 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. One of the success stories was working within the slums of Mukuru-Kenya.
She is a proud member of the Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church. She has written several peer reviewed papers, articles and part of books. She is a national and international speaker in many forums.
Sister is a post-doctoral researcher at Boston College Massachusetts-USA. She has a PhD in Diplomacy, Peace and International Relations. She earned two Masters, one in Peace Studies and International Relations and the other in Education. She also has a Bachelor of Education degree.