Finding Innocence in the Face of Guilt

The problem with people is our sense of entitlement. The next time you feel deserving of a favor from God, think of the Prodigal Son story. This son, one of two, set off to escape his humdrum life. To fund his desires, he asks for his share of the inheritance from Dad. His father grants his request and this son makes prodigal use of it. In the meantime, the other son faithfully and obediently does the chores his father commands—hoping he’ll merit his share of the inheritance. When the prodigal son returns broke and with a well-rehearsed speech to win back his place under his father’s roof, Dad celebrates with prodigal abandon. The faithful son wonders, where’s MY party? His father tells him he will always have a home with him—but this brother who was lost is found, and that is worth celebrating.

Too bad these sons didn’t inherit their father’s prodigal innocence. Instead of cutting off his greedy son, he welcomes him back with joy. Instead of castigating his jealous son for questioning his father’s right to do with his assets what he wishes, he reassures him of an ultimate reward.

Our heavenly father’s ways are certainly not ours. Our original sin is believing we could ever do enough to earn our Father’s love. Like those sons, we keep score. Innocence knows no score. It was the inheritance into which humanity was born but then blew it in prodigal style.

This Sunday’s readings are about that lost inheritance and what we must do to get it back.

The first reading from the Book of Wisdom (Wis 2:12, 17-20) gives voice to the wickedness that stole our inheritance. It is the voice of those who would crucify the King of Innocence centuries later.

“With revilement and torture let us put the just one to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a shameful death; for according to his own words, God will take care of him.”

But God used the evil that replaced our innocence to make the innocence of the son of man stand out in relief. His surrender to an unjust death would inspire faith that would last for centuries thanks to the wisdom that stays with us through the writings of Christ’s disciples. Sunday’s second reading from St. James (Jas 3:16—4:3) reminds us of our inheritance waiting to be reclaimed.

“The wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.”

To reclaim our innocence, we need to be a new creation. But in these trying times, when we see the end of the world around every corner, like the prodigal son, we often scheme to show goodness rather than abandon ourselves to God’s love. If fear of losing our inheritance is our motivation to be “good,” and we determine that being good will “earn” us a slot in paradise, will we really be a new creation?

Ask yourself that question in light of this Sunday’s gospel reading from Mark (Mk 9:30-37). After witnessing a debate among his disciples about who among them is the greatest, Jesus introduces these ambitious, power-hungry men to an innocent child, telling them “whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me receives not me but the One who sent me.”

That innocence is manifested in a sense of oneness with God, and it constitutes his Kingdom. Remember, the Kingdom of God must be found within us. Don’t wait for it to be given to you, create it within yourself now. Built correctly, it will be secure from any thief in the night.

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