FOURTH SUNDAY of LENT – YEAR C
14th March 2010
2 Cor 5.17-21
Luke 15. 1-3, 11-32
A certain young woman Mary was the youngest of a family of 8. Her father had died when she was quite young. One day she visited her aunt Julie who had just found a bag of old photographs in her attic. A number of them were photos or portraits of her father whom Mary never got to know because of his early death. Aunt Julie was the brother of Mary’s dead father. She showed Mary the photos, some of which were portraits of her father. Julie explained that some portraits weren’t a good likeness of her father while others were. Then she came to one old portrait and said to Mary. ‘Now that is as good a resemblance you’ll ever see of your late father’.
The readings today paint or reveal to us an excellent portrait or likeness of who our heavenly Father is. A clear theme runs through the three readings: God’s incredible mercy and forgiveness for sinners.
In the First Reading we have the beautiful words God spoke to his people – ‘I have taken the shame of Egypt away from you’. The shame of sin and slavery are behind them. Yahweh their faithful God had freed them and looked after them on their journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land. This despite their often turning aside from worship of Yahweh.
Then in the marvellous Second Reading we heard how God has reconciled us to himself through Christ, not holding our faults against us. It is important to note that it was God who did the reconciling. As the text says: ’It is all God’s work’. So it is not because we gained God’s favour by our good deeds. Rather it is God’s incredible love that reconciled us to himself. Our good deeds are always simply a ‘thank you’ to God for his wonderful compassion and love for us.
Now that we have been reconciled to God he actually wants us to be his ambassadors or witnesses to tell others that they too are reconciled or can be, simply by turning back to God no matter how badly we have sinned or how long we have stayed away from God.
But what kind of God have we that he is inviting us to be reconciled to? And Jesus who knows the Father intimately paints this incredible portrait of the Father to us.
Just as any ambassador is expected to know his country’s policies and priorities and how best to represent them, so too with us called as we are to be ambassadors for God
So who is the God we are expected to reveal to others? It is the God whose portrait Jesus paints in the gospel today. Jesus reveals this to us by means of a parable. Some people have called it the parable of the ‘Good Father and his two sons’ because it focuses more on the father than on the two sons. The parable which is probably the best known and loved of all Jesus’ parables tells us the story of two sons and how each acted and then the response of the father.
Isn’t it hard to believe fully the parable of Jesus? What human father would have acted in that way? We would call him a crazy father since he knew what type of character his younger son was and yet he gives him his share of his inheritance. Since people did not get the inheritance until the Father was dead the younger son is basically saying – ‘as far as I am concerned you are dead’. The son is true to form and spends his inheritance wastefully on a life of debauchery. What is unexpected is not so much that the father welcomed him back but that he holds a great feast for him.
In the culture of the time to have accepted the son back, to begin things again as they were before would be most unusual. But to organise a feast, to kill the animal that was being kept for the big occasion, to give the son a cloak, a ring (a symbol of enormous trust) and sandals – these are almost impossible to imagine. The son is restored to his former position.
The parable does not speak in a way we human beings do things or are accustomed to act. The parable is speaking of God’s ways. It is God the Prodigal Father who runs towards the lost son, clasps him in his arms, not asking for any explanation, neither giving him a scolding nor criticising him. For a father of his time to have run to and embraced the son would have been very unusual.
To tell us who God really is, Jesus tells us this story and invites to be participants. God is so different from what we expect God to be. But we are not God and our ways are not God’s ways which is exactly what Jesus is trying to get us to accept.
God is extravagant. He is extravagant in his love and mercy towards us. He comes to meet us as we are, sinners, often so undeserving of his love. Jesus is trying to help us to have a different way of looking at God.
Yet some people maintain it is an unfair story. They feel sorry for the older son, convinced he got a raw deal. They believe that the younger son got away with doing terrible things. He should have been punished. He should have been taught a lesson. So it is not difficult to understand the reaction of the elder son who refused to participate in the feast for his younger brother. But others would say that he was too hardhearted and unforgiving towards his brother.
So the parable is really about hearts: selfish hearts and generous hearts, closed hearts and open hearts, cold hearts and warm hearts, unrepentant hearts and hard hearts.
Which of the two sons in the parable do I identify most with, the younger son or the older one? Maybe there is part of each in me.
The most important question of all is this: Who is the God I believe in? Is it the Prodigal Father Jesus describes for us today? Will we be ambassadors/witnesses of this Good News or of a false God of fear and sanctions?
“Lord Jesus, help us to accept fully the great Good News that God is our loving and compassionate Father who is as you describe him in the parable today. Help us to spread this message by the way we treat others and live our lives as Christians. Amen”.
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA. 8th March, 2010