Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.
The Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Lent gives us the parable of the Prodigal Son. The parable of the Prodigal Son has been called the greatest short story ever written. No matter how often we read it, or hear it, we cannot help but be deeply moved.
A certain man had two sons. The elder boy was a very hard, conscientious worker. Every day, from dawn to dusk, he worked in the fields. Whatever his father asked him to do, he did. The younger boy was a day dreamer. He loved to sit out in the front of the house and watch the caravans go by to the fabulous cities of the far-east. The very thought of these cities would send the blood rushing through his veins. He was tired of the monotony of the same fields, the same flocks, the same monotonous daily duties. His youth is passing away and he wanted to have his fling before it was too late. Filled with self-pity he goes to his father and asks for his share of the inheritance.
We can well imagine the sorrow of the father, as he reluctantly gives his son the inheritance. And so the young man sets out on his way to the big city. A country boy with a lot of money does not have a hard time finding friends who will help him spend this money. So he begins to “live it up.” He soon learns what could be called the “law of diminishing returns” in this pleasure business. As time goes on, the same stimulus brings less pleasure. So he begins to “step up the pace” to “burn the candle at both ends.”
Before too long his money runs out. But he is not worried. He has many good friends now. He has been picking up the tab all this time now let them pick it up. He soon discovers that with his money goes his friends. He’s not the big hero anymore he is just another bum. At this time a famine hits the country and he finds himself in want. Knowing nothing but farming, he hires himself out to one of the farmers of the place, who puts him out in the pig-sty to feed the pigs.
Picture to yourself this young man, alone, hungry, penniless, far from home. The picture of every sinner. We may sin with others but we pay the price alone. There are not many visitors to a pig sty, so he has a lot of time to think. His thoughts go back to his home, his father, his brother, the happiness he once had. He begins to contrast his present misery with his former happiness. “How many hired servants there are in my father’s house who have more bread than they can eat, and here am I without anything to eat.” Touched by grace, he says, “I will arise and go to my father, and say to him, ‘I have sinned against God and against you. I am not worthy to be called your son, just make me as one of the hired servants.’”
So he begins the long, sorrowful journey back home. Picture to yourself this young man walking along the road, his chin hanging on his chest, kicking up the dust with his feet, trying to make up a story to tell his father. What should he say? That he was robbed, that he lost the money, that he made a bad business deal?
As he turns the last bend in the road, the father who has been waiting all this time for him, sees him coming down the road. He runs down the road, embraces his son and kisses him. The young man all embarrassed now, begins his little story. “Father, I have sinned...” But before he can get it out, the father shouts orders to the servants. “Bring out the best robe and clothe him with it, put a ring on his hand, shoes on his feet, kill the fatted calf. Let us celebrate, for this my son was dead and has come back to life again, was lost and is found.”
Isn’t that the story of you? Isn’t that the story of me? Isn’t that the story of every one of us? How many times have we left the “bread” of our father’s house for the “husks of swine?” And how many times have we come back and received the same welcome as this young man? 70 x 7 times?
But the parable does not end with the return of the prodigal son. Just as the party is “getting a glow on”, the elder son returns from a long, hard day in the fields. As he approaches the house, he hears the music and the laughter. He calls one of the servants and asks, “What’s going on here?” The servant tells him that his brother has returned and his father is so happy to have him back that he has killed the fatted calf, called in the neighbors and they are celebrating.
The elder son is angry. He refuses to go into the house. The father has to come out. When he does the son demands an explanation. “All of these years I have worked for you, not once have I disobeyed you, and you have never given me even a kid goat to celebrate with my friends. Then, when this “son of yours” squanders all of his money, you kill the fatted calf.” “My son,” replied the father, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate. Your brother was dead, and has come back to life, was lost and is found.”
Isn’t the sin of the elder son far greater than all the sins of the prodigal son? He couldn’t forgive his own brother. He couldn’t rejoice with his father who was so happy to have his son back. We can all identify also with this elder son. How many times have we been jealous, envious, and angry because God gave someone else what we thought was due to us?
But the parable is
not about either one of these sons. It is about the father. It is more
about the father’s unconditional love than the sins of his sons.
It is about our heavenly Father who loves us unconditionally with a love
we can never earn or be worthy of. Who loves us not because of what we
are but because of Who He is. It is all about the fidelity of the love
of God. It is all abut the divine mercy.
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