After the death of King David’s son, Solomon, a civil war began and the tribes of Israel were divided into two kingdoms- a territory called Israel in the north and a territory called Judah in the south.
This divided kingdom was not what God wanted and a spiritual and moral decline set in that manifested itself in idolatry and finally resulted in catastrophe.
The prophet Micah spoke the Lord’s word of truth to the tribes of Israel who lived in the northern territory. He warned them, that God was not deceived, and knew of their infidelity to the covenant. The time had come to repent, and if their repentance was genuine, God would forgive them and restore them in relationship with himself.
In other words, what God wanted most was not the destruction of his people, but their restoration. He would meet the Israelites with mercy, if only they Israelites would let him. God wanted to forgive his people, the only problem was that in their arrogance and self-absorption, they didn’t want God’s forgiveness or a relationship with him. They were content with their idols.
Micah’s invitation to mercy would not be heeded, and in the year 722 BC, the false gods the people worshipped would deliver them into the hands of the Assyrians. The tribes of the northern territories would be scattered and disappear. Those that remained would be assimilated into the cultures of the pagans.
This was not what God had wanted for his people. It was what his people had chosen. It was the consequence of their refusal of his mercy.
The restoration of the lost tribes of the northern territories was one of the tasks of the Messiah. The Messiah would do what no ordinary man could do, gather the lost tribes and restore unity to God’s people.
Christ manifests that he is doing this in his outreach to the poor and afflicted, the tax collectors and sinners, the pagans and outsiders. He is not just being nice and inclusive, he is gathering those tribes who had been scattered. All these I have mentioned are stand ins for the lost tribes, and as Christ gathers them in relationship with himself, he offers them his mercy, his forgiveness and signals to all of Israel that in him God has come to gather, not only the lost tribes, but all the nations, and offer all the possibility of holy communion with his divine life.
Not all were pleased with this revelation. Many believed that what the Lord Jesus was doing was unfair- it was unjust. Unworthy people were getting something they did not deserve. It is to those who protest, that Christ offers the parable of the prodigal son.
The parable of the prodigal son presents in a story what the prophet Micah had delivered to the Israelites in prophecy. God’s desire is not to destroy his people, but to restore them. He meets them in their repentance, not with words of recrimination, but of forgiveness. God does not will for the sinner what they deserve, but what they need the most.
This should be an occasion of joy, but because it challenges worldly standards of justice, many do not find in God’s offer of forgiveness to the sinner a reason to rejoice. God, unlike ourselves, does not suffer from the pain-filled inability to forgive.
In Christ, all of us are given a possibility we do not deserve and cannot earn- he forgives us and where we have lost the power to set things right before God, he intervenes, by giving to us what we lack. So much of our lives are characterized by refusals of our Heavenly Father and we spend much of our lives far from home, squandering what God has given us, or lost in bitterness and regret. This is who we are.
When we refuse to forgive or seek forgiveness, when we think we know better than God how he should judge the sinner, we have forgotten that all of us are, in the sight of God, his prodigal sons.