It is worth remembering why Jesus told the parable of the Prodigal Son. As Luke records it, Jesus wanted to spend his time with sinners and tax collectors – hardly a wholesome group of people. For their part, they wanted to be with Jesus and to hear what he had to say. This was a mutual coming together – sinners with the Sinless One; Saviour with the saved.

This friendship group reveals something very significant: it reveals in Jesus, that to take the way of God is to take the way of forgiveness. The Pharisees and scribes, who grumbled about the unsavoury people Jesus befriended, struggled to accept this as the proper way of God. The parable reveals why Jesus thought otherwise: the way of God is the way of a loving Father who forgives and welcomes both the selfish and reckless son and the sullen and mean son.

We all like the story of the Prodigal Son, for we can readily see in ourselves moments of recklessness and selfishness, and we all have a need to be forgiven. But perhaps we are less ready to see ourselves as sullen and mean-spirited, and compared to those who are unforgiving. To be honest, most of us, me included, have something of both ‘tax collector’ and ‘pharisee’ about us; both younger and older son.

Our heavenly Father, for his part, simply forgives and welcomes his children. They belong to Him – we belong to Him – so He will always find a home for them, and for us. When Jesus died on the cross for all sinners, in obedience to his Father, he did not first determine which of his sisters and brothers he needed to include. There was no prior separation of the worthy from the unworthy. He died for all. And if Jesus would do that, then of course he would eat with anyone who wanted to be with him.

Pope Francis recently said: “Dear sister, dear brother, if your sins frighten you, if your past worries you, if your wounds do not heal, if your constant failings dishearten you and you seem to have lost hope, do not be afraid. God knows your weaknesses and is greater than your mistakes.” The way of God – the way of Jesus – is the way of forgiveness. Each one of us is invited into, and back into, God’s household. He wants us with him, and he wants to be with us. He looks out for our loss, so that we can be found. He offers his life, to overcome our death.

To paraphrase St Paul, ‘Christ has reconciled the world to himself, not holding our faults against us; and he has entrusted to us the news that we are reconciled.’ Christ takes the shame of our past away from us, to welcome us home in him. May we do the same.

Feature image: “Return of the Prodigal Son” by James Tissot