In today’s first reading and Gospel, the Church sets up a strikingly contrasting parallel. And as it always is in the liturgy, the Old Testament is type for the Gospel, a foreshadowing, a likeness that encounters the revealed Reality fully blazing in the Son of God. I’ll share here my own reflections, for what they’re worth.
In Exodus, God’s just and blazing wrath flares up against Israel’s idolatrous revelry and rebellion, and God commands Moses “leave me alone that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them. Then I will make of you a great nation.” But Moses’ refuses to leave God “alone,” and refuses to secure the divine promises for himself alone. Rather, he enters into a beautiful plea of intercession, begging God to, you might say, “be who He is” by remembering His promises sworn under oath to Abraham-Issac-Israel. By his intercessory prayer Moses, which means “son of,” draws from the heart of God the faithful mercy that He is, and turns God’s wrath away from Israel.
In the Gospel, we have a stunningly different vantage on God in the face of human sin and rebellion, a vantage revealed by the New Moses, the “Son of” God, who is the Father’s love and mercy in the flesh. Jesus’ parable tells the story of God’s son, Israel, who freely chooses to do evil — to abandon his father’s house and squander the riches of his inheritance in a house of slavery. The son’s rebellion against his father is no less dramatic than Israel’s drunken worship of the molten calf at the foot of Mt. Sinai, yet we encounter here a father filled not with annihilating wrath that requires negotiation to avert, but a shocking compassion and “sprinting” mercy that seems far more prodigal than the foolish son.
Jesus in the Gospels is God’s shocking compassion and “sprinting” mercy toward fallen humanity. Jesus is the one who intercedes forever before the Father, never to leave the Father “alone,” asking the Father to be toward us who He is: everlasting mercy. Indeed, Jesus, in his wounded risen Body, is an everlasting “remembrance” before the Father of the Father’s own excessively superabundant mercy.
And, even more beautifully (to me), we affirm in faith that Jesus is the Father’s own interceding with humanity to return and come home, to enter into the Father’s house for the joyous sacrificial Feast that His Son forever celebrates for redeemed Israel.
The parable ends with the pleading-Father asking the angry, self-righteous elder son, who chooses to remain outside the house, to return to his lost-and-found brother, and come in to share in the festival of God’s leaping, merciful love. We are left wondering if he will ever enter. . .