Joshua 5:9-12, Psalm 33, 2Corinthians 5:17-21, Luke 15:1-2, 11-32
The central message of this fourth Sunday of lent is as well the central message of the entire Lenten period: “reconciliation.” The Apostle Paul in the second reading puts it very emphatically: “We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Reconciliation is about abandoning old ways that are no longer sustainable and embracing new habits that are life-giving. Some of our old ways may not be bad, but they represent only temporary measures that were needed at the time. Thus, the idea to abandon old ways refers to the consciousness of growth in our lives. We can never stop growing or learning once we are open to the possibilities that God has laid out for us. In today´s first reading from the book of Joshua, we read that when it was clear that the Israelites have been saved from their oppressors, their temporary means of sustenance ceased. Yes, “the manna ceased” (Jos 5:12)! Time to cultivate! Time to embrace new habits. And in the Gospel reading, we observe that the prodigal son may always have been prodigal even before leaving home, but the experience of want made him embrace a new habit of humility (Lk. 15:17-20). This sense of newness is what characterizes our Christian identity, for “whoever is in Christ is a new creation” (2Cor. 5:17). The question remains: What old ways are we abandoning, and what new habits are we embracing during this Lenten season?
Because the central message is reconciliation, changing our old and bad habits, the Gospel reading needs some careful attention. But perhaps, the story of the Prodigal Son really needs no elaboration. The most respectful response to it is personal reflection. To aid this reflection, I will like to underline the three principal characters of the parable. First there is the younger son, an impatient lad who wanted his inheritance now. Couldn’t wait for the father to die. Greedy fingers, itchy feet, a sensual nature; wanting to live it up, and to hell with the commandments. A life based on doing whatever he feels like doing” is really not an unfamiliar story. We make excuses: “Sure you might as well, while you’re young. As long as you’re enjoying yourself, and stay safe.” But the happiness ran out, and he came to his senses. And that’s the big point about him. He came to his senses. He really was repentant. Repentance is to be sorry to be in one place, to want to be in another, and to have the will and determination to get there. To be sorry for our sins, to want a different kind of life, and to have the motivation and determination to change. Well, he had that. He was graced with that. “I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired men” (Lk 17:19). As I say, the big thing about him is that he acknowledged his sins and wanted to be rid of them. He was really repentant.
The second character is the father, who was on the lookout for the son’s return. “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him” (Lk 15:20). Still a long way off, a dot on the horizon. Doesn’t that mean he was on the lookout for him, from the day he left, watching and waiting and praying, like many a father or mother? Doesn’t it illustrate how God the Father feels about each of us, how much every one of us matters to him, how anxious he is that we’d come back? And he didn’t just wait for the son; he ran out to meet him” met him half-way. Some people feel we should call this story “the Prodigal Father.” To be prodigal is to be wasteful or lavish in your use of things. Well, the father threw his forgiveness around. Not in any grudging or reproving way, but in an explosion of sheer generosity and joy: Kill the calf, we’re having a feast, the son is alive again. The father is noted for the prodigality of his forgiveness and the intensity of his joy: “There will be more rejoicing in Heaven over one sinner repenting than over ninety-nine upright people who have no need of repentance” (Lk 15:7).
The third character is the elder son, so angry that he couldn’t enter into the mood of the party to celebrate his brother’s return. He’s indignant at his father’s easy pardon of the returned prodigal, and refuses even to go in. Of course, his anger is quite understandable and he’s treated with some sympathy by his father, but the elder son’s attitude helps to illustrate how much more forgiving God is than we are, and how inclusive, all-embracing, is the Father’s embrace. It includes the two of them the rock and the rover. “My son you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right that we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”
This parable applies to each and every one of us. There is someone who welcomes us and forgives us unconditionally, someone who wants us to have fullness of life. That someone is God who is not tired of extending to each of us his invitation to reconcile with him and with our brothers.