Fourth Sunday Laetare Sunday
Joshua 5,9. 10-12; Psalm 34; 2 Corinthians 5, 17-21; St. Luke 15, 1-3. 11-32
We have all heard the story of the Prodigal Son many times. We have all lived the story many times. We have often been thoughtless and, like the young man, considered what was best for number one, and ended up hurting those who love us the most.
The deeper sin of the prodigal was that he took the money and ran. He was not concerned about his father's future. Ancient social security, if you will, demanded that he work his father's land, giving the father a portion of the results so his father would always have food on the table. The prodigal also sold his family's birthright, their portion of the Promised Land given to the Chosen People.
Many times we have been like the Forgiving Father. We have all been hurt by others without cause and then been called upon to forgive them. Perhaps, we haven't needed any motivation to forgive-- other than love. We looked everyday for the one who had offended us. Like the forgiving Father, we started the celebrations before the offender could complete his or her apology.
Many times we have been like the Elder Son. One whom we love has been hurt. Although the injured party has forgiven, we continue to hold a grudge and as such deny ourselves admittance in the banquet of the Father's love.
In every family there are times where there is hurt, anger, and alienation. But we cannot run away from our family. We only have one family and we must make every effort to be reconciled.
We are called to forgive, and we are called to seek forgiveness. Husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, parents and children, neighbors and strangers, we are all called to the ministry of being reconciled with one another just as God the Father seeks, through every person of every age, to be reconciled with us.
The wisdom expressed in this parable goes much further and teaches us that human sin can take the form of wild and rebellious behavior or, perhaps more commonly, of sullen, angry and judgmental attitudes. Civil law is concerned almost exclusively with rebellious behavior but, in the parable, it is clear that the sinfulness of the elder son is much more dangerous.
Those of us who lead quiet and "responsible" lives may very well fall into the trap of sullen, resentful and angry attitudes toward others who seem to be "getting away with murder." What we need to ask ourselves is whether we have the kind of love that can understand why others, often less privileged than ourselves, may need both correction and forgiveness.
When the elder son in the parable says to his father, "your son," (and by implication no brother of mine) has done wrong and should be punished, the father gently corrects him with the words, "Your brother" (and not just my son) "was dead and has come to life again." This wayward son has indeed sinned, but he has also repented and has paid a price for his sin. Now it is time to rejoice.
We cannot change unless we are first aware of what needs to be changed. Once aware of the areas of our lives which are ruled by negative forces like hate, anger, resentment, greed, vindictiveness, injustice or violence we need to repent. "Repent" in the Gospel calls not only for expressions of regret and sorrow; it also demands a radical change in my future behaviour, a profound change in the way I see God and people and other things. It calls for a re-ordering of my relationships with God, with Jesus, with other people and with myself. It means a real turning around of my life, a real conversion.
The context of today's passage is important. Sinners and social outcasts were "all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say". The Pharisees and Scribes, who were the "good and religious" people, were shocked and disturbed. "This man welcomes sinners and [even worse] eats with them." By their standards, a "good" person avoids "bad company". To be quite honest, don't we think the same? If so, then we are not thinking like God or like Jesus.
There is no force involved. The police are not sent out. Servants are not instructed to haul him back. No, the father waits. It is up to the son himself to make the crucial decision: does he want to be with his father or not?
Eventually he "came to his senses", that is, he realised the wrongness of what he had done. He became aware of just how good his father had been. The process of repentance had begun. He felt deeply ashamed of his behaviour and then, most significantly of all, he turned around to make his way back to his father.
In one of his novels Dostoyevsky describes a scene that he had actually witnessed.
A woman held a baby in her arms ----one who was a few weeks old--- and, according to her, she noticed when the baby smiled at her for the first time. All contrite, she made the sign of the cross on his forehead and to those who asked her the reason for this she said:
"Just as a mother is happy when she sees the first smile of her child, God too rejoices every time a sinner gets on his knees and addresses a heartfelt prayer to him". ("The Idiot")
Who knows? A person may be listening and may finally decide to give this joy to God, to smile at him before he dies...
What do we do in the sacrament of Reconciliation?
We examine our conscience, we repent for our sins, we confess them, and we amend our lives.
The father in the parable. He does exactly what the priest does in the sacrament of Reconciliation.