A Homily – The Gospel of Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 ©
The Gospel of the Day – 2016.03.06 (Sunday)
The Prodigal Son
The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and the scribes complained. ‘This man’ they said ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he spoke this parable to them:
‘A man had two sons. The younger said to his father, “Father, let me have the share of the estate that would come to me.” So the father divided the property between them. A few days later, the younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery.
‘When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine, and now he began to feel the pinch, so he hired himself out to one of the local inhabitants who put him on his farm to feed the pigs. And he would willingly have filled his belly with the husks the pigs were eating but no one offered him anything. Then he came to his senses and said, “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants.” So he left the place and went back to his father.
‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. Then his son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we are going to have a feast, a celebration, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” And they began to celebrate.
‘Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing. Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about. “Your brother has come” replied the servant “and your father has killed the calf we had fattened because he has got him back safe and sound.” He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out to plead with him; but he answered his father, “Look, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property – he and his women – you kill the calf we had been fattening.”
‘The father said, “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”’ (NJB)
Love One Another – Do Not Despair
Appearances are not everything.
There is good in everyone, and in everyone there is cause to be disappointed.
The degree of judgement levelled by the Pharisees in this narrative; that is not something to emulate, neither is the jealousy expressed by the loyal son.
Beneath the veneer of piety there is often a degree, of bitterness and resentment; making the pretense of piety a mere façade.
The parable is about justice.
Jesus presents a story from the vantage of divine justice. Few of us are able to do this. The more common discussion of justice is the superimposition of human values, contemporary social values over what we believe God would desire. It is much more rare, and it is the role of the prophet to express divine justice; justice characterized by love and mercy, compassion and forgiveness, asking us to reform our human traditions in the light of those.
This parable is often analyzed as a narrative on the power of repentance; repentance, which is the turning around of the sinner toward God. It is told as a story of conversion, and the power of transformation that ensues, and that is fine because those motifs are clearly present.
The characters in the parable are the father and his children. Read; God and humanity.
Humanity is presented in two different lights; the self-indulgent, and the disciplined.
The self-indulgent child is like most of us, greedy and heedless of the future. The journey he makes, takes him for from his father, far from God. It is a long journey, it takes years to complete, and it leaves him destitute.
The disciplined child represents a much smaller number of us (though most people fall somewhere in between). He stays home, remains obedient, and asks for nothing from his father. He is pious and resolute, but in his heart he is resentful, and bitter. Because he asks for nothing for himself, he receives nothing for himself, and in his heart he is covetous.
Between the sin of self-indulgence and the sin of covetousness; which is greater? I think it is impossible to say.
There is perhaps a broader degree of danger in self-indulgence, but there is deep spiritual danger in covetous heart.
This is a story of repentance. The younger son repents and returns home. The long journey away from home, is a short journey back. And the narrative reveals that while he was away from home, the eyes of his loving father; God, were always on him.
This, I believe is the point of the narrative. It is not that repentance is possible, or that God rejoices in the repentant. It is that God is with us, always. We are never out of God sight, and we are never far from God’s love. The parable is about God, God’s mercy, God’s Love, God’s compassion, God’s forgiving heart, which God, and Jesus, ask each of us to emulate everyday.
4th Sunday of Lent