When I was a newly ordained priest, one of my parish responsibilities was to work with the sacramental preparation programs for the grade school and religious education children. We were working with the sacrament of reconciliation one day, and I was doing a presentation for the parents. I stressed the fact that God is always ready to welcome us home. No matter what we have done, God is always ready to forgive.

When I finished my talk, I opened it up for questions. I called on the first hand that went up, and a parent challenged me. If we talk about God being so willing to forgive, aren’t we actually encouraging people to sin because it is so easy to be forgiven?  To be honest, there is a certain element of scandal in what a gospel song calls “the wideness in God’s mercy.”

We have a tendency to put people in categories. We might be more willing to cut some people some slack, but we prefer a tougher policy with others. We can be a little uncomfortable with a God who makes the sun rise on the bad and the good, or (as Luke puts it in his parallel to this passage), with a God who is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. The outrageous teaching of Jesus is that perfection comes not just in keeping all the rules, but rather in being merciful and compassionate as our God is merciful and compassionate.

At what point do I find myself starting to get uncomfortable with the extent of God’s mercy? Are there any individuals or groups that I would like to exclude from God’s mercy?

—Fr. Joe Folzenlogen, S.J. is vice-superior  of the Faber Jesuit Community in Cincinnati and Director of Claver Jesuit Ministry.