That Jesus would welcome sinners and eat with them is obviously a huge deal. There was thought that associating with sinners made one complicit in the sin; so the audacity of such an action was sinful in and of itself, at least as far as the religious leadership was concerned. But as an act of mercy, it’s grace unlike anything else. And the significance for us is understandable. Jesus still welcomes sinners and eats with them. If that were not true, none of us would be here for the Eucharist today, would we?
Something that often gets overlooked in this very familiar parable is that both of the sons are sinful. It’s obvious that the youngest is sinful: taking half of his inheritance before his father is even in the grave, living a life of dissipation and sexual excess, using up all that money in a short time, content to eat among the swine which no good Jew would even think about touching, and finding himself very, very broken. But the so-called good son is sinful too. On his brother’s return, he refuses to go into the house to welcome him back, and takes his father to task for showing mercy and love. In the Gospel, failure to forgive is itself sinful.
Both sons are sinful in their own way. Both need the father’s love and mercy and forgiveness. And both receive it. Far from the way a proper Jewish father would act, he runs out to meet both sons where they are. Protocol would have them come to him, and not he to them. But he comes out twice: once to meet the younger son who is on the way back to him, and once to meet his older son who refuses to come in.
There is often discussion on where we find ourselves in this very familiar parable. Are we the sinful son? Are we the good son? Are we the father? It probably depends on the day – we might be like all of them at one time or another. I don’t think that’s what matters here. What matters is that Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them – in our case, feeding us with the finest bread and wine which are of course his very own Body and Blood. Without this grace, we would have no life – salvation would only be a pipe dream. But because this grace is very real, we have the opportunity to gather here at the Table of the Lord, and one day, please God, at the great heavenly banquet.
Praise God today for his forgiveness, mercy and grace. Praise God that he welcomes sinners and eats with them.