In the second reading, Paul’s letter to his disciple Timothy, Paul acknowledges that he too was once the older brother. It is interesting that he sees that “I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief.” When I apply this to the Lost Son, the attitude of the older brother is revealed. He was ignorant of his younger brother’s conversion experience of coming to his senses and his return and what that meant emotionally for the father; he did not believe in the power of mercy or his own capacity for mercy, until of course his father comes out to the field to show him mercy and invite him in.

This ignorance unless most of our relationship with another, even in our own family. We can barely know ourselves, so how can we presume truly to know the other. This recognition of one’s own ignorance generates a mercy toward the self and toward others. I find myself saying, “The older I get, the less I know.”

Paul presents the antidote to hate and divisions (see the very last verse of this passage) as grace, faith, and love, the three things once lacking in Paul and in the older brother. Paul recognizes that he was mercifully treated by God and so behooves himself to extend that same mercy and understanding to others. He goes so far as to dissolve the divisions of human society and break down the barriers. (cf. Colossians 3, 11) He understand that this is his new ministry.

Alan Hartway

Theological Studies at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago IL; Master of Fine Arts, Poetics, at Naropa University, Boulder CO 1996; Master of Arts, Greek Classics, University of Colorado, Boulder CO 2012; Taught at Naropa University from 1999 through 2015; Chair of Interdisciplinary Studies from 2007-2015; Member of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, Kansas City Province since 1974; Pastor at Guardian Angel Catholic Church, Mead, CO, ministry from 2007-2020 Currently Retired

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