What a world we live in! What a community we are! We are truly a mixed bag. Take a look around. Each of us and all of us together present many faces. It may depend on the time and it may depend on the circumstances, but we are truly a mixed bag.
What we see in Luke’s gospel this weekend fits us as much as it fits the persons gathered around Jesus in the story related by the gospel writer. (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32) Here we meet tax collectors and sinners. At the same time we meet Pharisees and Scribes.
The group that has gathered around Jesus are a mixed bag. The tax collectors and the sinners are the outcasts, the rejected from society. No one wanted to be associated with them. Society and faithful believers kept them at a distance. Isolated from the community, they were without supports and relationships certainly to sustain them. They came and gathered with Jesus in their need. They sought healing for their hurts, forgiveness of their sins, reconciliation of their relationship with the community. They sought inclusion.
On the other hand, the Pharisees and scribes were the insiders. They were the great examples of the close observance of the law. The society and community honoured them and followed their lead. Their response to Jesus was a wariness and rejection of what Jesus was bringing. They often led the exclusion of the outcasts. Their comment about Jesus expressed this desire to exclude and how appalled they were with Jesus’ mixing with the outcasts: “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
In Luke’s story there is a further story, a parable. It is a well known one often called the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The parable Jesus tells speaks to both groups of people that Jesus encounters. The younger son has rejected his father and leaves the family, journeying to a far off land. He excludes himself. The older son, behaves like the Pharisees and the scribes. He has no desire to include his younger brother when he returns – and he feels he has every reason to reject him.
The father seeks to heal both sons. He rushes out to welcome the younger son as in need and pain he returns to the family. He also goes out of his way to heal his older son who is unwilling to include his brother. Both brothers are regarded with the same love by the father. Both need healing of their wounds, forgiveness for their sins and reconciliation with their father and each other. The father’s love includes both.
We are truly a mixed bag. We are sometimes the younger brother, sometimes the older one. But as different as we might be, we and all the peoples of the earth are included in the circle of God’s loving embrace, no matter what. And out of love, God never gives up on us. Nor can we ever give up on one another.