Rachel had just begun a new job teaching children with severe learning and emotional difficulties in an inner-city school. The job was draining, often bringing her to tears – but she prayed each day that she could make a breakthrough to one broken soul.
Her most difficult charge was ten-year-old Kyle, the son of a drug-addicted mother, a boy with permanent scars along the side of his left arm from a beating when he was three. Kyle was given to angry, violent outbursts and running away.
Rachel and another teacher had planned a school trip for their students. But because of his behaviour issues, Kyle would have to remain at school. Kyle flew into a rage, screaming, cursing, spitting, and swinging at anything within striking distance. And then he did what he had done at other schools, and at home, he ran.
Kyle dashed out the door, straight into the heavy morning traffic. And Rachel ran after him. She had no idea what she would say or do once – and if – she caught up with him. But she ran after Kyle.
Kyle ran for several blocks, he was fast, but Rachel managed to stay with him. Finally he stopped. Bent over with exhaustion, he looked up, surprised to see his teacher running toward him. But when he saw Rachel, he did not run. He stayed still as Rachel approached. He calmed down; his anger and fear subsided. Rachel and Kyle locked eyes. Rachel willed every ounce of compassion and understanding in her heart toward his.
Before either could say a word, the principal of the school arrived with the Gardaí. Kyle would be taken for psychiatric evaluation. Rachel did not take her eyes off Kyle as he got into the car – and Kyle’s eyes never left Rachel’s.
Rachel later shared her disappointment at what had happened with Kyle’s speech therapist who knew Kyle’s history and family situation. The speech therapist placed her hand on Rachel’s shoulder and said, “Rachel, no one ever ran after him before. No one. They just let him go.”
Kyle eventually returned to school. He asked if he could return to Rachel’s class. As the weeks passed, Kyle was glued to Rachel’s side, complying with instructions, attempting to do his work – once even smiling. For a child with deep attachment issues, it was amazing to see Kyle finally developing a bond with someone – someone who ran after him.
In today’s Gospel, note that when he catches sight of his son in the distance, the father runs – runs! – to greet and embrace him, and then welcomes him home before the chastened boy can even begin his carefully rehearsed speech. Both the father and Rachel welcome their “prodigal” son and student joyfully and completely, with no recriminations, no conditions, no rancour. That is the work of reconciliation that God calls us to take on: to “run” to restore relationship and community with those we have hurt and with those who have hurt us; to “run” to heal the brokenness and bridge the divisions that prevent us from realizing the love of God in our midst.
The forgiveness parables taught by Jesus in today’s Gospel reveal a God who never gives up on us, a God whose love is endless and whose forgiveness is eternal, a God who always seeks us out and offers new beginnings, second chances and clean slates. The love of God is there for us even in our darkest days, when our despair and feeling of alienation from God and others is at its most acute, when we are angriest at God and the things of God. All God asks of us, in return, is to try and love and forgive one another as God loves and forgives us.