Every one of today’s readings (from the Revised Common Lectionary) is about forgiveness and redemptive deliverance from distress, no matter whether the distress was merited (by wrong choices) or not. As such, these readings transmit one of the most important messages of the Bible, both Old Testament and especially New Testament – namely, that our God wants to show mercy and wants to bring us into spiritual union with his surpassing love.
“Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt,” says the Lord to Joshua.
“Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered,” says the Psalm.
“In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us,” writes Paul in the Epistle.
“This brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found,” says the father to his son, about the son’s prodigal brother.
This is all good news, of course. But we should note that these readings share another commonality in addition to God’s mercy. In each case, the mercy comes only after we humans move in God’s direction. Sometimes the movement is a particular confession of sin; sometimes it is a renewed keeping of the covenant; sometimes it is a direct plea for forgiveness. In the Epistle, it is a mere openness to God’s grace – but even then, it is an active openness, an attitude of seeking reconciliation via our own conscious choice of so orienting our souls.
It is often very difficult for us to put our faith in an invisible God, but this faith is a predicate for the grace God offers. The key thing here is our faith, our trust. As the Psalm says, “Steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD.”
This is more difficult than it sounds. We are not only aware of our own sins of action or at least of thought, but we are also full of pride. It is not easy to submit, nor easy to admit error much less re-orient our souls so as to (try to) correct it. And it is very difficult indeed to acknowledge that grace and redemption are out of our hands and entirely in God’s hands – because that means we are not, personally, ultimately, in control.
But that is what God asks of us. That which he asks is both extremely simple – to accept his freely offered grace – and also quite difficult, because accepting that it is God’s grace alone to give is to relinquish our own direct, active agency in the process.
Still, the story of the Prodigal Son tells us one thing more. It tells us that no matter how far we are from redemption, no matter how far our own agency takes us in the opposite direction, there is no distance too far for God to make it up, through God’s mercy, if we only throw ourselves on that mercy and accept that the grace is God’s alone to give.
We can move from the desert to the rich crops of the land; we can be surrounded by steadfast love; we can be reconciled to God: We can go from being lost to being found.
May we all therefore leave ourselves open to the joy of God finding us, again and again.