There are many great stories and lessons in today’s readings. Two themes that run throughout are patience and unconditional love. These are two virtues that God models for us in today’s readings. These are two virtues that we must incorporate in our daily lives.
Pope Francis, celebrating his “Installation Mass” as the bishop of Rome, painted a beautiful picture of these themes. He said:
God is not impatient like us, who often want everything all at once, even in our dealings with other people. God is patient with us because he loves us, and those who love are able to understand, to hope, to inspire confidence; they do not give up, they do not burn bridges, they are able to forgive.
We get a good sense of this in today’s readings. In the first reading, the Lord tells Moses that he has had enough with the Israelites’ behavior. They had turned their backs on God and began worshiping a “new god” – a molten calf (a false god). In that reading, God tells Moses that he wants to wipe out all of these sinners. Then God will make the remaining Israelites “a great nation.”
But why did God threaten this? Is it because he is impatient? No, not at all. Theologians tell us that God made this threat to test Moses … and Moses passed the test. Moses reminded God (and reminded himself) of the great things God has done for his people:
- He brought them out of the land of Egypt with His power
- He swore to Abraham, Isaac and Israel that he would make their descendants “as numerous as the stars”
God wasn’t threatening to wipe out his people; he wasn’t being impatient. God was not forgetful of his promises. He was helping Moses remember a valuable lesson: God loves ALL of us UNCONDITIONALLY. Sure, God isn’t always pleased with our actions, but He always loves us.
We hear another story of patience and unconditional love in today’s Gospel. I chose the long version of the Gospel because I love the story of the Prodigals. If you are a parent, and have ever raised teenagers, you understand the value and importance of patience and unconditional love. You can probably relate to the Father in this story; doing your best to give your children what they want and need, and balancing that by being brave enough to let your children go and grow, and make it on their own (even if that means witnessing them make mistakes).
Like the father in the story, patiently waiting for your liberated child to return to you is one of the obligations of a parent. Whether they return triumphant or broken – you love your children. Sure, there are boundaries and limits to behaviors, but there are no limits or conditions placed on your love for your child. Just like there are no limits on God’s love for us.
The image of Jesus on the cross is a good representation of this type of unconditional love. We see Jesus nailed to the Cross with arms wide open. He is willing to open His arms to let us go … and He is willing to open His arms to receive us back. Letting go and receiving back are two challenges we parents face with our children. It’s a challenge all of us face in many relationships. We would do well to reflect on the Cross and Jesus’ great example of patience, mercy and unconditional love.
The father in this story is a good example of God and his patient, unconditional love (loving with arms wide open). Whereas the two brothers show very little patience and place a lot of conditions on their relationship with their father.
The first son wants his inheritance right then and there … those were his conditions. His demands are non-negotiable. How does the father respond? Unconditionally, “Here is what belongs to you and your brother.”
After squandering his inheritance, the first son returns and begs forgiveness and again sets conditions – “I am not worthy. Treat me as you would a hired hand” The father responds how? He dresses his son in the finest robe; he puts a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. He throws a big party for his son. Patience, mercy and unconditional love; that is the father’s response.
The story ends with the second son becoming angry. He tells his father: “I was a good son; I did whatever you said and never disobeyed you. This is how you honor me? You throw a party for my brother who squandered his inheritance? You never even gave me a small goat to share with my friends.” In other words, “It’s not fair!”
The father reminds and assures the second son with great compassion: I have always loved you – everything I have is yours. Join me in celebrating your brother’s return.
We are sometimes like the first son:
- When we focus everything on ourselves
- When we turn our back on God
- When we fail to fully commit to what God wants for us
We are sometimes like the second son:
- When we get wrapped up in the sin of comparison
- When we don’t acknowledge all of the wonderful gifts that God has given us
- When we don’t respect and value all of the people God places in our lives
Today’s readings teach us about patience and unconditional love This week, I invite you to reflect on your own life and your relationships. Ask yourself:
- Where in my life must I be more patient and forgiving?
- Where in my life have I placed unrealistic expectations and conditions on others that harm our relationships?
A final thought …
I think an amazing example of patience and unconditional love is the gift of marriage. This week, my wife, Becky, and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. In this very church, we pledged our love to each other; to honor each other as husband and wife for the rest of our lives.
Has it always been easy to be patient and love unconditionally? No (just ask my wife!), but we have been blessed with a marriage that has allowed us to sustain our commitment and to grow in love.
To me, the love of a married couple is a great example of how our relationship with God should be: It is patient, it is merciful, and it is unconditional. It grows every day – because you work at it every day.
Not all people are called to the married life, and not all marriages last. But, no matter what, remember that God is patient and loves us all … unconditionally. May God bless us all!
Deacon Dan Donnelly
St. Joseph Catholic Church – Manchester, Missouri