4th Sunday of Lent
March 6, 2016
There are three players in this Sunday's parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:1– 32): the loving, generous father who is watching and waiting for the return of his child; the selfish, self-centered younger son who rejects his father and squanders his money; and the older, faithful son who is lacking in compassion. Most of us can identify with one or all of these characters at different times in our lives.
The younger son just can't wait to leave home and live life on his own terms. He doesn't want anything to do with his father, his family or the values he's inherited. Unfortunately for him, local custom permitted this young man to ask for his inheritance in advance; and this is exactly what he did. By taking his inheritance early, he effectively repudiates and disinherits his father. So off he goes, ultimately squandering his money, ruining his life and eventually sinking so low that he ends up attending pigs, an unclean animal most Jews wouldn’t even want to come near! After losing everything, he will swallow his pride and come home. There, he will find the father waiting to take him back with great joy. This character represents any of us who have, at any time, wandered off the path God has planned for us and have later come to regret our actions with much grief.
The older, more mature son seems at first glance to be better off. He has remained faithful to his father, staying close to him and sharing his life and business. He has not asked for money or abandoned his post. In many ways he's a model child, but is not an attractive character at all: he comes up short in a very crucial area – love. He resents his younger brother who seems to have gotten away with something, who had more fun, went through much of his father's money and then was accepted back, apparently without consequences. He is resentful and uncompassionate. He does not understand how his father could still love this younger, sinful son.
The father is the real star of this parable! He knows his younger son is making a mistake in leaving him, but the younger son must discover this for himself. The father watches constantly for the younger, foolish son to return. Notice the father does not force the son to return: he must turn around on his own. Nor does the younger son have his fortune restored or his time away erased: both have still been squandered. But his status as a son of the household has been restored! He is welcomed back home unconditionally, and so it is with us, whenever we turn back to God, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Though the consequences of our choices may remain, God will always forgive us, restore us and never bring it up again whenever we truly turn around and seek his mercy once again.