4th Sunday in Lent – C- Lk 15:1-3;11-32 – St Vincent de Paul, London
The narrative of the father and his two sons is one of the most famous parables in the Gospel. It expresses the Christian image of God. When we meditate and pray about the merciful father and his sons, we can learn what Christianity is about. It is about God’s mercy and forgiveness. God reveals himself to us. He invites us to enter into a relationship with us, liberating relationship that helps us to live life to the full. The image of the merciful father tells us: This God is not a God we must fear. Our God is full of love and forgiveness.
In order to grow in our relationship to God, it is helpful to return to this text every now and then. I invite you to reflect on the characters in the parable. Ask yourself: Can I identify myself with the younger son – with the older son? Can I find some character traits of the father in me?
There is the person of the father. He represents God, the father, showing compassion with his son, who was lost and now returns in need of forgiveness. The father does not judge the son. He welcomes him with his arms wide open. He gives back to him his status as a son of the family. The past life of the son does not matter. If he only comes back, he will be forgiven. The son does not even have to ask for forgiveness. It is the father who takes the initiative. He sees him from far away and runs out to greet him. Instead of being punished, the son receives the place of honour.
Now look at the younger son. He is eager to do something with his life, he is adventurous, he wants to see the world, and he wants to make his own thing. He insists on his personal freedom. And the father accepts his wish and allows him to go, although his experience will probably have told him that this will lead to disaster. And so, the younger son starts his new independent life. In the beginning, everything seems perfect. But sooner or later, his new world rejects him. The son who was so desperate for freedom ends up as a slave in a foreign country. He is in great distress. No one is willing to give him anything, not even the food for the pigs. In this situation, all he can do is to return home, hoping for understanding and forgiveness.
And finally, there is the older son. He does not understand or does not want to understand the reaction of his father who does not punish the younger brother but welcomes him with a big celebration. To the older son, this behaviour seems unjust. He has always been loyal to his father, hardworking; he has never asked anything for himself. He is not able to celebrate the return, he feels jealous and envious.
Now place yourself in each of the three characters. Ask yourself:
When I see myself as the younger son, did my desire for autonomy damage my relationship to my family and others whom I love? Do I have the courage to admit a mistake and ask for mercy? Can I accept God’s forgiveness?
When I put myself in the shoes of the older son, can I be proud of my own achievements? Can I celebrate them? Do I allow myself to enjoy life and be attentive to my own desires? Has my work become a burden for me, a duty I must fulfil, or can I see it as meaningful and helpful for others? Can I renounce a right even if I am entitled to it? Can I grant others forgiveness if they have failed?
When I look at the father, can I react like him, merciful and forgiving to others who have done something wrong? Can I be generous and grant pardon to others, without asking for punishment and compensation? How is my image of God? Can I see him as loving and forgiving? Or do I fear him as a revengeful God?
It is interesting that the Gospel does not tell us the end of the parable. How will the older son react? Will he remain angry or will he finally understand his father’s reaction, enter into the house and join the celebration? We do not know. What we can say, however, is that the father surprises both his sons with his eagerness to forgive.
The parable invites us to reflect our image of God. He is different from our expectations. He is a God of surprises. In his love and forgiveness, we are reconciled with God, with others and with ourselves. God’s ultimate aim is our salvation. He leads us into the joy of an everlasting feast. When we celebrate the Eucharist tonight, we thank God who has reconciled us to himself for his love and forgiveness. Amen.