Today’s readings invite us to believe in a loving, patient, merciful, forgiving God. The Good News Jesus preached was that God is not a cruel, judging and punishing God. He is our loving and forgiving Heavenly Father who wants to save everyone through His Son Jesus. He is always in search of His lost and straying children, as Jesus explains in the three parables of today’s Gospel.
In today’s first reading, taken from Exodus, Moses is imploring a forgiving God to have mercy on the sinful people who have abandoned Him and turned to idol-worship. He reminds God of His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In today’s second reading, Paul tells Timothy that, although he, Paul, had been the greatest of sinners as the former persecutor of the Church, God has shown great mercy towards him.
In the first two parables, there are the common elements of loss, searching, finding, rejoicing, and sharing of the joy. These parables show a God seeking sinners, and in the third parable, we see a God forgiving and receiving sinners. As a group, the parables tell us about God’s generosity in seeking and receiving the sinner and the joy of the sinner in being received by a forgiving and loving God. All three parables of Luke 15 end with a party or a celebration of the finding.
There is a great search for happiness and fulfillment in life now. The emphasis now is on enjoying life. That search for happiness and fulfillment is symbolized by the prodigal son who went in search of happiness in the parable in today’s Gospel (Luke 15). The only problem was that he thought he could find happiness in what the parable calls a life of debauchery (Luke 15:13). We would say now he tried to find happiness by satisfying his every desire whether moral or immoral. This eventually led him to living with the pigs in the piggery. But true happiness is not to be found outside of ourselves, but within ourselves, in our own hearts. I am sure if his father or anybody else had tried to show him before he left home that he would be wasting his life and money, he would not listen. He had to be left to learn the hard way, from his own mistake, since there was no way you could reason with him. He also had to decide himself to come home. If someone went to bring him home he would resent it.
That younger son reminds me of the struggle of society at this time to be successful. We have a booming economy, we are a Celtic Tiger, but in many ways we have a spiritual famine in our country at the moment. Because of that spiritual famine in some ways we have ended up like the younger son living with the pigs in the piggery. We could think of the instances of drug and alcohol abuse, all the fraud and stealing in the workplace, murders and violence, marital infidelity, all the rows and tensions between people. Because of these and so many other things we could say we are like the younger son living with the pigs in need of returning to our Father. So let us return, we won’t find happiness with the pigs. Happiness is to be found within, not outside of ourselves. In the parable we are given a most beautiful description of our heavenly Father. He is outside of the house waiting for the younger son to return (Luke 15:20). When the son returns his father runs to him, clasps him in his arms, kisses him, brings him in and throws a party for him. When we return to God he throws a party for us. Not only does he come out of the house once, but he comes out a second time to try to persuade the elder son to come in (Luke 15:28). Our heavenly Father welcomes each of us to his party.
The most beautiful line for me in the parable is what the father says to the elder son, “All I have is yours.” Our heavenly Father says to us, “All I have is yours.” This is a most beautiful promise and invitation. We were not told at the end of the parable whether or not the elder son went in to the party (Luke 15:32). After reading this parable we also have a choice to make, will we stay outside or will we go in to enjoy the Father’s party.
Far away hills look green, there are many attractions in life, there are many voices saying to us, “Follow me” or, “Follow your desires and you will find happiness.” But the best offer of 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. When we return he runs to us, clasps us in his arms and invites us into the party. For the remainder of Lent we might try to make an effort to answer that invitation from our heavenly Father, “all I have is yours.” During every Mass we receive the same invitation from Jesus, “This is my Body which will be given up for you…this is the cup of my The lost son: This has been called” the greatest short story in the world.” It speaks about the deep effects of sin, the self-destruction of hatred and the infinite mercy of God. This is a story of love, of conflict, of deep heartbreak, and of ecstatic joy. The scene opens on a well-to-do Jewish family. With the immaturity of a spoiled brat the younger son demands impudently of his gracious father, “Give me the portion of goods that falls to me.” Demanding inheritance while the father was alive was equivalent to treating the father as dead. Under Jewish law, when a father divided his property between two sons, the elder son had to receive two-thirds and the younger one-third (Dt 21:17). In Jesus’ parable, the younger son offends his father again by selling out his share of the inheritance and then squandering the money in a faraway city. The land was sacred to the Jewish people because it was the Promised Land given to the Chosen People. Hence, each bit of land was considered holy, and no Israelite could lawfully sell his property (Lev. 25:23, I Kg. 21). Ancient “social security” basically consisted in sons farming their father’s land and taking care of their parents until their death. Thus, in selling his land, the prodigal has sold his parents’ social security.
The conversion, return, and confession: When he becomes bankrupt, the prodigal son ends up feeding pigs, a task that was forbidden to a Jew (Leviticus 11:7; 14:8). Having sunk to the depths of economic, spiritual and moral depravity, the prodigal finally “comes to his senses” (v. 17). So he decides to return to his father, to ask his forgiveness and to beg for the status of a hired servant. When he sees his son returning, the ever-watchful father runs to him and gives him a cordial welcome along with a new robe, a ring and new shoes. Symbolically, the robe stands for honor; the ring for authority (the signet ring gave a person the power of attorney) and the shoes for the son’s place as a member of the family (slaves did not wear shoes). The father also throws a great feast killing the “fatted calf’ reserved for the Passover feast so that all may rejoice at the wanderer’s return.
The “Prodigal Father” and the self-righteous elder brother: The parable illustrates the wonder of God’s love and unconditional forgiveness. God seeks out the sinner and forgives him unconditionally. Jesus recounts the story of the elder brother as his response to the accusation by the self-righteous Pharisees that he was the friend of sinners. The elder brother represents the self-righteous Pharisees who would rather see a sinner destroyed than saved. He reflects the Pharisees’ attitude that obedience to Mosaic Law is a duty, not a loving service. Like the Pharisees, the elder brother lacks sympathy for his sibling and levels accusations against him. As a self-righteous person, he refuses to forgive. Thus, his grudge becomes a sin in itself, resulting in his self-exclusion from the banquet of his father’s love. That is what we all do when we sin. We exclude ourselves from the banquet of God’s love
We need to live every day as our merciful God’s forgiven children: Let us begin every day by praying for the strengthening anointing of the Holy Spirit so that we may learn how to obey God’s holy will by doing good, avoiding evil, and trying to live in God’s presence everywhere. Before we go to bed at night, let us examine our conscience and confess to God our sins and failures of the day, asking His pardon and forgiveness. Let us resolve to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation if we have fallen into serious sins. Let us continue to ask for God’s forgiveness before we receive Jesus in Holy Communion during the Holy Mass. Thus, let us live a peaceful life as forgiven prodigal children, getting daily reconciled with God, our merciful and forgiving Father.
Let us ask God for the courage and good will to extend God’s forgiveness to others: Let us realize the truth that our brothers and sisters deserve and expect from us the same compassion, kindness and forgiveness which we receive from our merciful God. As forgiven prodigals, we must become forgiving people, for Jesus taught us to pray, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” As we continue with the celebration of the Holy Mass, let us pray also for God’s Divine mercy on all of us who have fallen away from God’s grace. Let us open our eyes to see and ears to hear that Jesus is welcoming us back home!
We need the Father’s Compassion: Some of us take the prodigal son as a role mode: go astray at will and come back to be welcomed back! Some others are ‘good’ like the elder brother; not willing to forgive. Once we have returned to the Father and had been welcomed and accepted, we must emulate the love and forgiveness as shown by father in the story. As heirs to our Father we must practice love and forgiveness for all in need. Jesus is not asking us to be like either of the two brothers. Let us try and be like the father in the story. “Be made perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Be compassionate as my Father.”
Fr. Michael Dias