IVth Sunday of Lent.JOSHUA 5:9, 10-12;: II COR. 5: 17-21;Gosple: LK 15:1-3, 11-32
Charles Dickens the greatest story writer in English said” The parable of the prodigal son is called "the greatest short story in the world". We have heard the story so many times so much so we believe that we have squeezed it dry of meaning. The younger son, who had gone off and squandered his inheritance and almost lost his life, finally comes to his senses, remembers his father's goodness and wisdom and decides to come home. Then St Luke tells us: "While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him... He ran to his son..." It's as if the Father was standing every day on the roof, looking off into the distance, hoping that his lost son would return. As soon as he sees him he rushes towards him.
God never stops hoping that we will come to him. He has his eyes on us all the time, not to pounce on us when we mess up, but to run to us, embrace us, kiss us, and clothe us with the robe of his grace and the sandals of divine sonship (servants went barefoot in ancient households, but family members wore sandals). This active, unconditional love of God is the source of Christian joy. The devil likes to make us forget about it - especially when we most need to remember it.
Although the story of the prodigal son is often given as an example of repentance, it is actually the story of how God forgives and heals the repentant sinner. Like God, the father in the parable was ready to forgive both of his "sinful" sons even before they repented. St. Thomas Aquinas explains that God already forgives us as soon as we repent, even before we go to confession or perform any penance. The forgiveness the father offers in the parable parallels the forgiveness God offers in real life. That is why Jesus in the Gospels frequently describes God more like a defense attorney than a prosecuting attorney.
There is no better picture of forgiveness of God in the whole Bible than this parable. It reminds of a story about a woman who had upset her pastor because she claimed that she had conversations with God. She had attracted quite a following in the church and every day people gathered at her house, got on their knees, prayed, sang hymns and listened to her describe what God was saying to her. The pastor thought all this was getting out of hand, so he went to visit her. "I know you say you are talking with God," he said, "but what you hear talking back at you is just your imagination. Just to prove it, I want you to ask God to name three of the sins that I confessed this morning. Then tell me what God said. If you can name those sins, I'll believe that you really are talking with God." The woman sat there for a long while, praying. Then she looked up and said, "I asked God to name your three sins, but God said, 'I forgot.'" All our repented sins God forgets, but our unrepented sins remain as barriers between us and God for God’s grace to come to us.
The self-justifying elder son represents the self-righteous Pharisees. The elder son had no feelings of sympathy for his brother. He was resentful, bitter and angry. He was so jealous of his younger brother that he never wanted to see him again. He hears the sounds of celebration, finds out what happens, and boycotts the party. So what does the father do? St Luke tells us: "His father came out and pleaded with him..."God takes the initiative in our lives. He steps towards us first; he comes out to meet us. God is always knowing us, loving us, and paying attention to us.
The elder son would have joined the celebration if he had some particular advantage for himself. He could not see any good coming to him by joining the party. So he refuse to go in. An elderly man on the beach found a magic lamp. As he picked it up and started cleaning it, a genie appeared and said: “Because you have freed me I will grant you a wish.” The man responded. “I had a fight with my only and older brother thirty years ago. I want to be reconciled with him so that he may forgive me and start loving me.” The genie said, “I am glad that you did not ask for money or riches. Your wish is granted. Are you sick and about to die?” the genie enquired. “No way!” the man shouted. “But my unmarried, older brother is about to die and he’s worth about $60 million!!”
Lent is a time to "pass over," from a world of sin to a world of reconciliation. The story of the prodigal son asks each of us an important question: Will you accept the Father's forgiveness and partake of the banquet, or will you remain outside? Lent is a time to transform hatred into love, conflict into peace, death into eternal life. Some times we are much like the elder brother who preferred justice to mercy. We have earned God's favor (or so we think) by "staying at home." We have merited his acceptance by the good life that we live.
Jesus will not tell us how this story will end. The father passionately invites the older son inside, "pleads with him" to join in the welcome. Curiously, however, we are never told what the older brother decides to do. The story ends but it doesn't end. We are left there." Will we RSVP to a party thrown by an unfair God? Or will we stubbornly remain outside? In a world where God does not play fair, this parable forces us to make a choice. Who is the real "prodigal" here? Who is the real "waster"? From the beginning Jesus says that this is a story about two brothers. Which one is the authentic prodigal? Which one has yet to come home to the Father's extravagant love?
We need to accept the fact that we are all prodigal children who have squandered our Father’s inheritance. Because of spiritual famine, we resemble the younger son who lived with pigs. Let us accept the fact that we have been squandering God’s abundant blessings not only in our country and in our families, but also in our personal lives.
But the best and the only real offer of lasting happiness is from God our Father, “All I have is yours”. God our heavenly Father is outside the door waiting for us to come to him. For the remainder of Lent let us try to make every effort to answer that invitation from our heavenly Father. Each Lent offers the sinner a chance to return home with a confession of sins, where he will find welcome and open-armed love. "There is more joy in heaven over the one sinner who does penance than over the ninety-nine just who do not need penance."