The Fourth Sunday of Lent [C]
Josh 5:9,10-12 + 2 Cor 5:17-21 + Lk 15:1-3,11-32
March 6, 2016
“My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.”
In today’s Gospel passage Saint Luke presents one of the greatest of Jesus’ parables: the parable of the Prodigal Son. We need to keep in mind, however, that Jesus never gave titles to any of his parables. Neither did the evangelists. Whoever named this parable decided to focus the title on one of the parable’s three chief characters. The younger son was chosen as the title character, so on him our focus tends to rest.
However, if we focus only on the person of the younger son, our understanding of the parable quickly diminishes. Many people, for example, associate the word “prodigal” with the actions of this younger son. If you were to ask a large group of persons what the word “prodigal” means, many would say that it means “wasteful”: a prodigal person is one who thoughtlessly spends his valuables on meaningless things.
In fact, the word “prodigal” has another meaning. In this Sunday’s parable, not only is the younger son prodigal. The father of these two sons is prodigal also, but with his love. At the end of the parable, the father has to remind his older son, “you are with me always, and everything I have is yours.” Perhaps spiritually we are the son or daughter who strives to be faithful to God, but who forgets the gracious love which the Prodigal Father freely and offers each day.
There is no limit to God the Father’s love. In the parable, the prodigal father bestows his love equally upon both sons. The only thing that keeps this love from entering their hearts is their own distancing of themselves from the Father’s presence. Each son distances himself from his father in his own way. These two sons do not believe that they are loved by their father, but the prodigal father offers his love to both sons. The irony of the parable is that, at the end, it’s the son who had at first been faithful who puts distance between himself and his father.
To make the most of Lent, we need to imitate all three of the parable’s chief characters. We need to imitate the older son’s initial steadfast fidelity. We need to imitate the humility of the younger son whenever we fall. Finally, however, once God has strengthened us through His mercy, we need to imitate the parable’s prodigal father. This need reflects what St. Paul explains in Sunday’s Second Reading: “I mean that God, in Christ, was reconciling the world to himself, not counting men’s transgressions against them, and that he has entrusted the message of reconciliation to us.”
When we gaze upon the crucifix and see Jesus crucified for our sins, we see a person who did perfectly what the father in the parable had done: he gave his gracious love in a prodigal manner, freely and without measure, only in order to better the “other”.