Reflection on the Gospel of Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, Fourth Sunday of Lent, 27 March 2022

The Gospel of Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So Jesus told them this parable: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”‘ So, he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe–the best one–and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'”

Let us Pray:  God of the lost, the least, and all who long for home, when we wander from your ways and waste the gifts you have given us, welcome us back, we pray, so that we may celebrate and rejoice in your presence forever; through Jesus Christ your beloved Son. Amen.

There are three main players in this parable. The youngest son, the elder son, and the father.

Let’s imagine that you are the youngest son who is returning home. What thoughts are going through your mind? Are you planning what you will say to your father? How high is your anxiety level? What is your greatest fear? And yet, what do you have to lose? Your life is in shambles and if needed, you will accept whatever is given to you, no matter how menial it might be. Your pride has to be left behind.   The distress of the younger son, suffering hunger in a foreign country, made him long for something better. Deep down he was eager to find true forgiveness.

Now you are the eldest son, just finding out about the return of the youngest son and of the celebration. What thoughts would be going through your mind?  What is your reaction? How are you going to handle the situation? The elder son was caught in the fairness trap – he wanted justice not mercy. He desired that all things be measured and fair. But he had no idea of the importance of forgiving. The parable gives us clues that the relationship between the eldest son and the father may be somewhat problematic. “A son with a normal relationship to his family would have entered the party immediately, eager to join in the joy, whatever the source. The older son has a right to question his father’s behavior, but this must be done in private after the feast is over.

Now you are the father, you have had to bear the anguish that he must have endured all those long and lonely nights when he wondered about the condition of the one, he created and brought to life.  Will your actions be like the father’s actions that speak louder than his words? Will you be willing to forgive and welcome your younger son home? Run to meet him, embrace, and reinstate the son without any question of where he has been or what he has done?

How is all this all tied together?

The elder son would have been expected to enter the party, hug his brother, and accept the congratulatory statements from the guests for the safe return of his brother. Instead, he exclaims, “You have never given me even a kid to celebrate with my friends!” In an honor-and-shame based culture, it would have been expected for the father to chastise his older son for this behavior. What we see instead, for the second time in this parable, is that the father comes to his son with love. The father’s love for the older son is just as intense and profound as his love for the younger son. Unfortunately, we don’t see any gestures of repentance in the older son. In fact, the story ends quite dramatically with the father’s words, “But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” The hearers would have wanted a resolution for the conflict between the father and the older son. Something like this, “And the older brother went into the feast and reconciled with his brother.” Or, perhaps, “And the father severely punished the older son for his disrespect and sent him away from his presence.” Or “And the younger brother came out and asked his older brother for forgiveness, and both brothers gave each their respect and understanding.

Now take a few moments and thank God (the father) for the steadfast love, care, and blessings that He has bestowed on you in your life. Bask for a few moments in this reality. There is no greater gift. God will never leave us! And if and when we do leave God for a period of time, God patiently will look for us and wait for us until we return home! Then the celebration for us begins! Will we be a part of the celebration or be like the elder son and grumble about fairness and wonder why he has never had a party given for him.

This story is often told to highlight forgiveness or to focus on our need for repentance. It seems that Jesus told it so that we might relish God’s abiding mercy. The Loving Father desires only to bless and to restore love and dignity.

Let us Pray: Lord, help us, this Lent, not to focus entirely on our sins but to keep our heart fixed on your love. Don’t let us be distracted by any false image of ourselves but allow us to hear your invitation to grow in your image, to reflect your love. This we pray in your name. Amen

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