We are in the midst of our Lenten path and we receive this Gospel of Luke on forgiveness and reconciliation. As often in the Gospels, a large crowd is following Jesus, and it is mainly composed of sick people, sinners, and the abandoned. All this did not go unnoticed. Jesus’ attention to the marginalized, the excluded, the ones who did not follow the rules, was one of the Pharisees’ reasons for accusing Jesus. But Jesus’ preference for the little ones was not accidental, it was part of his mission, part of Jesus himself, and, we could say, of the very image of God. This is why Jesus replied to their accusation not by speaking about himself, but about God, about how God acts and how God is.
In the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus wants to show God’s behaviour. We should name this parable “The merciful father” rather than “the prodigal son.” The parable focuses on the father’s unusual behaviour more than on the son’s decisions. Yes, this Father is really unusual, despite everything the younger son has done to him the father is waiting for him, scrutinizing the horizon and looking for his son to arrive so much so that he catches sight of him from a distance and runs to him. He embraces his son showing him all of his joy for this return. It is not all, after this the father not only welcomes his son at home, in the most intimate place of his family, but he throws a party for him and gives him the signs of his status in the house. We can imagine the surprise and the joy! It is the joy of being together again, of finding each other again after time of distance and reject, it is the joy of a welcome that does not know conditions or standards. It is the same joy I have witnessed many times with the Community of Sant’Egidio when homeless men and women, prisoners or the poor were welcomed at our Christmas Lunches, usually in beautifully decorated churches or halls. Faces of men and women marked often by pain and shame that showed the joy of feeling welcomed and finding the love and hospitality that we all deserve and of which too many are deprived.
The image of the kingdom is often that of a banquet in which all are invited and welcome; and yet at times the “righteous” stand outside as if they do not feel part of that joy and celebration of reconciliation. It is the story of the older son who, in his sense of righteousness, has grown quite distant from the feelings of limitless mercy felt by the father.
But this Word of God comes to us as a gift showing the image of God clearly to us. God runs towards us in order to have us again. This is the meaning of Christian reconciliation: it begins with God even before we “come to our senses”, God is there before us waiting for us. We are just asked to accept and recognize this mercy and love.
The father does not seem to know what to do without his sons. It seems that he needs them. He even goes out to the older brother who did not want to come inside: he wants him to embrace his brother. He wants everyone to be fully part of the joy that he grants. That is what God is like: he always precedes us in love and runs towards us, sinners, to embrace us and to teach us to embrace each other. This Lenten season is a good time for us to experience the richness and joy of reconciliation and welcome. May this time of Lent help us change our heart and attitude; may we be able to accept the embrace and words of the Father and may we witness the same welcome and joy to those who are excluded from our society and who do not receive words and gestures of reconciliation and joy. And may we all walk together towards Easter, towards the time in which Jesus will be risen for the salvation of all.
Paola Piscitelli is the President of the Community of Sant’Egidio USA, the American branch of the larger worldwide movement founded in Rome in 1968. A Public Lay Association recognized by the Holy See, the Community of Sant’Egidio is a movement with 70,000 members present in more than 60 countries in all continents. New communities and groups of friends of Sant’Egidio sharing a life of prayer, friendship and service to the poor are growing in the United States. The charism of the Community can be synthetized by the words of Pope Francis in his visit to the community in Rome: Prayer, Peace and the Poor.
Paola joined the Community of Sant’Egidio while she was attending High School in Rome. She has been a member of it since then and has become president of its American branch in 1993. As such she has coordinated the service programs and the growth of the Community in the United States through seminars, retreats, presentations and lectures. As all the members of Sant’Egidio her commitment with the community is totally volunteer.
Since 1986 she has been active part of participated at several interreligious meetings in Europe and Middle East, among which we may remember the one in Jerusalem (1996) and one in Warsaw, Poland in 1989. Since 2002 she has organized a yearly Vigil of Prayer for Peace in New York in concordance with other world initiatives of the Community.
Paola was born in Rome, Italy where she lived till 1993. She has been living with her husband and her two children in New York City since then.
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