Remember the story of the prodigal son? When he returned, the father threw him a big party, but the older “good” brother didn’t approve. The good son got not a tongue-lashing, but a patient explanation of what goes on in a parent’s heart. When a young adult runs away from his or her parents’ guidance, their hearts are sick with fear. When a child comes back, it is as though he or she rose from the dead, and the sense of relief is overwhelming. Of course there will be a celebration.
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found’” (Luke 15:31,32).
In our work of spiritual reclamation, let us always remember that broken sinners are restored not by the law (commandments, shame, pressure, works, incentives) but by the pure gospel (the Father’s unconditional love, Christ’s unconditional forgiveness, the Spirit’s patient working of faith).
And when you have been a bad boy or bad girl, always remember that God’s greatest desire is to embrace you once again and give you a plate of veal, not to give you the punishment that you so richly deserve. Mercy triumphs over judgment.