4th Sunday of Lent 2016 – Year C

6 March 2016

Joshua 5.9-12
2 Cor 5.17- 21
Luke 15. 1-3, 11-32

Some time ago, a father was asked by his third son, 19 years old, for a loan of his car to go to a nearby town with his friends for a disco. He promised his father that he would drive very carefully and wouldn’t drink. In the past he had sometimes come home drunk. However, this time he was true to his word regarding the drink but the car, a Mercedes, was very powerful and he wanted to show off to the friends and drove at speed whilst they cheered him on. Suddenly the car went out of control. Luckily, none of them was seriously injured but the car was totally destroyed. On his way home in a taxi he was scared to meet his father as he expected the worst, especially as his mother and siblings had warned the father not to give him the car. To his amazement the father threw his arms around him and hugged him warmly, telling him whilst they could never replace him they could always replace the car.

Today’s Parable of the Prodigal Son is probably the best-loved parable told by Jesus. In it the younger son is given his share of the inheritance but quickly squanders it on a live of sinful pleasure. Having spent all his money he suddenly found himself without friends. His own pain made him realise the pain he had caused to his father. We are told that he came to his senses, which could be described as the moment of grace. It was a brave decision and took courage to carry it out.

The journey back was a sad, lonely, and fearful one. Isn’t it easy to come back home when you are a hero laden with trophies and glory? But the prodigal son had no trophies to show to his father with which to earn his praise, welcome and love. He was coming home empty-handed. Worse, he was coming home laden with shame and disgrace.

Everything was out of his hands.  Supposing his father didn’t accept him back. What would he do then? He knew he deserved to be punished. Yet, it was the last thing he needed. He didn’t have a good time. Maybe he had a lot of pleasure but certainly no joy. He had suffered a lot – hunger, remorse, degradation of soul, and the sense of betrayal. Each sin brought a sure, swift penalty along with it. To sin is to suffer. He didn’t need more punishment.

What happened? When the father saw his son coming towards him, his heart went out to him and the next minute they were in each other’s arms. The father didn’t just accept him back. He welcomed him back. All was forgiven.

The biggest discovery the son made was that he was loved in his sins. The father never stopped loving him. It doesn’t do that much good to be loved in one’s goodness. But it is an extraordinary experience to be loved in one’s sinfulness. This is what grace is all about. Those who have experienced this type of love, like Saint Augustine, know something about the heart of God.

We could never have known God’s incredible love and forgiveness for each of us if Jesus hadn’t come to reveal and model it. God’s forgiveness is not a cold, half-hearted forgiveness but a warm and heartfelt one. God just doesn’t only forgive us; he loves us and lets us know it. The story doesn’t give us a licence to sin. But for those of us who have sinned and maybe badly this story is a very great consolation. Our past can be overcome. We can make a fresh start. This is the great lesson of the parable.

God is extravagant. He is extravagant in his love and mercy towards us.  He comes to meet us as we are, sinners, often so undeserving of his love. Yet he comes to us to lead us to a terrific feast in heaven, the foretaste of which is the Eucharist. Jesus is trying to help us to a different way of looking at God. For the most part we have been brought up with the idea of a profit and loss God.  That is, if we are good we will be rewarded and if we do bad we will be punished.  This is difficult to reconcile with today’s parable.

Jesus met the elder son in the Pharisees and lawgivers of his day, many of whom were locked into their own conviction that they were right and knew the way to earn God’s acceptance and a place in his kingdom. They thought they had rights over God and guarded him jealously. Jesus understands these people too and tried his very best to get them to come to know God as he really is but they were too set in their ways and finally got rid of him because he was too subversive, according to their way of thinking.

Which of the two sons in the parable do I identify most with, the younger son or the older one?  Maybe there is part of each in me? The most important question of all is this: Who is the God I believe in?  Is it the prodigal father Jesus describes for us today?  Do we fail to see the sheer gratuitousness of God’s love and so fail to understand the gospel message?  St. Paul invites us to be ambassadors of the newness of the message of Jesus, of a God who has a feast prepared for us. Will we be ambassadors of this good news or ambassadors of a false God of fear and sanctions?

“Lord Jesus, help us to accept fully the great Good News that God is as you describe him in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Help us to spread this message by the way we live our lives as Christians. Amen”.

Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA

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