500 Years of Christianity Countdown
Man is a social being and we all want to belong.  This is the reason behind the success of Facebook and social media that “link” us with almost everyone, giving us a sense of belonging in a borderless, global village.  Problem is when our sense of belonging becomes a process leading into divisions among us wherein we see all kinds of labels everywhere even in the Church like liberals, progressives, conservatives among others that prompted Pope Francis recently to remind us to do away with these groupings because we all belong to God. Precisely!  Jesus Christ came to unite us all as brothers and sisters who belong to God as our Father.  It is the essence of His prayer in Gethsemane “that all may be one” which He made clear at the start of His ministry when He instructed His disciples to “first look for the lost sheep of Israel.”  To belong to God means to be merciful like the Father, seeing one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, as persons to be loved and cared for especially when they get lost.  Most of all, to belong to God is to always rejoice when a brother or sister who had gone astray comes back, seeking forgiveness, trying to start life with us simply because we belong to one another. 
 
            Today’s Gospel speaks a lot about belonging to the world as the opening lines of St. Luke suggest:  The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them (Lk.15:1-2).”  Further into the parable popularly known as “Parable of the Prodigal Son”we find the Lord’s portrayal of this wrong sense of belonging in the world we too are all guilty of in one way or the other:  the youngest son asking from his father his inheritance, of “what belongs to him” while towards the end, the elder son complaining of not getting what rightly “belongs” to him after years of loyal and dedicated service in the family business.  To belong in the world means to compete with one another, trying to outclass others because only matter matters to us like the prodigal son.  He thought material things are essential in order to belong, forgetting the fact that objects fade and are very temporary, adding nothing at all to a person’s worth and value.  Jesus is telling us in this parable that we are more than our possessions and titles, more than our name and honor that every single person is always worth saving.  We are so precious to God than anything else in this world that He sent us His only Son Jesus Christ to save us and bring us back to Him where we all truly belong!
 
            Only St. Luke narrated this in his gospel account preceded by two other parables, the lost sheep and the lost coin that he had assembled together in chapter 15 referred to as the “Gospel of Divine Mercy.”  In these three parables, the evangelist reveals a totally different and unique characteristic of the Father’s mercy which is always joyful.  It was not only too much for the Pharisees and scribes that Christ welcomed sinners but even so unthinkable and scandalous for them that Jesus claimed through these parables that God rejoices when a sinner returns to Him!  St. Luke eventually would prove this truth when he alone recorded how on the Cross Jesus promised Paradise to the repentant thief shortly before they died on Good Friday
           
            That was the problem with the Pharisees and scribes, along with us modern Christians today:  being self-righteous and sanctimonious, always feeling more worthy than anybody else. It was for them – including us today – for whom Jesus addressed this parable represented by the elder son who belonged to the world. To belong in the world means to be exclusive, that we have every right in life because we are the center of the world that even God has to conform to our views and perceptions.  To belong in the world is to see others as objects to be possessed than persons to be loved and cared for.  See how the elder son refused to call the prodigal son  his “brother,” referring to him merely as “your son” while conversing with their father.  When our sense of belonging is based on what we are or on who do we think we are rather than on who we are, that is when we separate from humanity as if we are superhumans with no need for others nor God!  Worst of all, like the Pharisees and scribes represented by the elder son, to belong in the world is simply to see life as a competition to have all the perks and rewards for one’s self, thus making life mechanical, less human and even inhuman.
 
            As long as we belong to the world, we will remain subject to its highly competitive ways, always expecting rewards for whatever good we do, leaving no room for our own and others mistakes and sins; but, when we belong to God we can live as He does: full of love, mercy, and joy.  There is always tenderness and warmth in every face, in every embrace especially to those exhausted and wearied with the world’s monotony.  See how in the beautiful ending of the parable is the father who rightly makes this the “Parable of the Merciful Father” when he declared to the elder son, “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours (Lk.15:31).”  We all belong to God as our Father; more than the material things He has that He shares with us, we have Him in every person given to us.  In the first reading, the Lord reminded Joshua of His immense love for the Israelites who can have all the land and its blessings for as long as they belong to Him alone as a nation.  We can only truly rejoice in life when we belong to God and not to the world. 
 
            Last week Jesus invited us to find the spiritual meaning of the various events that happen in our lives.  It is a call for our conversion that is essentially a call of moving from belonging to the world to belonging to God, of being “reconciled with God” and being the “righteousness of God in Christ” as St. Paul strongly implored us in the second reading (2Cor.5:20,21).   What an honor that in spite of our sinfulness, we are the faces and witnesses of the Father’s mercy in this world because we have personally and truly experienced His mercy in Christ Jesus.  It is something so real and so true that we always experience in the Eucharist and most especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  This, after all, is the reason we rejoice this Sunday; double that joy by sharing that mercy with those who have sinned against us. Amen.