Today is Laetare Sunday, a day when the Lenten observance is relaxed a bit and we turn to the joy that we find in the Lord and in our community and relationships with one another. I find it helpful that this day is placed in the middle of Lent, a resting space before we move deeper into the life and Passion of Jesus and the intensity of Holy Week.
In our world, evil can seemingly go on multiplying if it is not checked. For example, a friend of mine who experienced tragedy in her community recently remarked about how this tragedy seems to have had “ripple effects” that negatively impacted others down the line. Evil can have a ripple effect, for sure. This is why it is all the more important that we act as agents of love and make sure that our loving actions have an even greater ripple effect.
When Jesus tells us the parable of the prodigal son, he is describing something like the ripple effect of Love. God loves us the way this father loves the wayward son, prodigally and even unreasonably. The son has to be willing, though, to accept this love and not to fall into his own distrust of whether he deserves it, or some form of self-hatred. In Lent, and especially on Laetare Sunday, we are encouraged to look for all the ways that God continually seeks to love us, despite our personal limits and despite real human limits in relationships, communities, institutions, and the world. Indeed, being loved in our limits in some ways demonstrates how real the love is, that it is not dependent on how much we give, or how good we are, but just that we are God’s Beloved ones, made in God’s image.
But the prodigal son is not only about how we receive this love from the Lord but also how we share it. When tragedy strikes, do we make an effort to stop the ripple effect of evil, sin, and death? Do we engage in making love real, so that Love can wash over the death-dealing aspects of evil, and restore goodness and bring healing?
I think that the key is that we have to first allow ourselves to be the recipients of God’s own love and healing, to let God’s Word of Love to penetrate our individual hearts, sink into it, so that we can receive God’s loving arms the way that the prodigal son does. But then we also have to go out and give it to the world, to our personal relationships and to those who are marginalized in our societies, to allow what we have received to be passed on to others.
God always is on the side of reconciliation. Like the father who waits for years, if necessary, for his son to come home, God is very very patient with us. The father even runs out to the son, to meet him even before he arrives at home. He does not wait for the son to show up first. So, too, ought we to be patient with others and with ourselves and even run ahead to others in love.
Maybe this Lent we have striven to be better, and maybe we have grown, or maybe we have not always succeeded. But Laetare Sunday reminds us that God is bigger than our personal limits and the limits of our communities. God’s love is powerful; do we “taste and see” the goodness of God and allow it to transform and heal us, so that we can also transform and heal our world?
*The readings for today are, in fact, different: not the parable of the Prodigal Son as I thought, but the man born blind who is healed in John 9. But the point about Love remains the same!