24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

If there is ever an event that can cause the most drastic swing of emotions, it would have to be when a parent loses or at least ‘thinks’ they have lost their child.  The absolute sense of dread and panic; of sheer terror is, if not the worst, then certainly among the worst things one could ever experience.  But the flood of emotions experienced when we find that child again; relief, exasperation, and joy are just as intense. We don’t care how they ‘got back’; we’re only glad that they are back.

It is at these times that we realize it is not important what we have; what we own; we would give it all up just to have our child with us; to keep them close; because that relationship between a parent and their child is what is most important; it is the relationship that makes a family; it is that relationship that fills us with joy.

We are presented in today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke with three parables from Jesus, who is trying to , once again, explain to some of the Pharisees why it is so important that he associates with the lost and the broken, the outcasts;  the ones whom the Pharisees refer to as ‘sinners’.  It’s interesting to note the wording of the comment by the Pharisees:  they say” This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  That phrase, ‘this fellow welcomes’ would give us a hint that Jesus is actually not just a guest of honour, but actually hosted gatherings; it’s not that he happened to be at public gatherings, like a parish potluck dinner and the ‘sinners’ happen to show up:  Jesus would host events at which he encouraged and welcomed those who had drifted away from their faith, and from a relationship with God to come back.

In relating these three parables, Jesus says the return of those who have distanced themselves from God, who have broken their relationship with God, is indeed a cause for rejoicing, not just in a family, or local parish church, but in heaven itself: Jesus states it quite plainly: “I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the Angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  If there was ever a passage in Scripture that shouts encouragement for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, this is it.

Each of the three parables seems to hold a graduating degree of ‘fault’ on the part of that which is lost: we have an innocent little lamb that just kind of wanders off for no particular reason; we have a coin that is ‘misplaced’; but it is in the third parable, the one we have come to call the Prodigal Son – or perhaps better The Loving Father – where the responsibility of becoming ‘lost’ really rests with the conscious decisions of the one who wanders away.  It’s really quite a study in our relationship with our Creator, and is just as relevant to our society today as it was in first century Palestine.

The younger son is not interested in a relationship with his father; “give me my share of the property that will belong to me,” He’s talking about an inheritance – well, ordinarily to receive an inheritance, the original owner of the property has to die.  In essence, what this younger son is saying to his father is, ‘I wish you were dead. I have no interest in you or being part of your ‘family’; I just want your property that would come to me if you were no longer around.  I want what you have – I just don’t want you.”  How often do we hear that echoed in our own society; a society that is all too happy to take everything that God has provided, but rejects a relationship with God – at times even rejects the existence of God.

Well, the father gives this younger son half of his property, an unusual move in the culture of Jesus time, and as we read, the younger son takes this abundance and squanders it all, living a life completely counter to his culture, his religion, and his family’s honour.

And when he finally hits rock bottom, the Gospel says, he comes ‘to his senses.’ And decides to return home; but it’s not really for any high-minded ideal or deep sense of conviction; it’s because he’s broke, and hungry; and he knows his father will at the very least feed him.  And as he is on his return home, it is the father who sees him from a distance and runs out to meet him; the son has a speech he has prepared; a set of conditions to offer his father in return for his coming home – but the father doesn’t let him complete his speech (especially the part about treating him like one of the servants) but in joy makes a tremendous show of welcoming his wayward son home.  In effect, he says to the boy, that it’s not important to him why his son has returned; it only matters that he has returned home and the father welcomes him back into relationship.

Even the elder son starts to drift away from relationship; he complains to his father about all the work he has done and how his father hasn’t given him a small goat in exchange for his efforts to have a little party;  the elder son is sounding like he expects something from the father – as if the father ‘owes’ him ‘something’ in exchange for his years of loyal service; but he too misses the point; that everything the father has to give him is his for the asking; but what is really important is the relationship between the father and his children.

We may be tempted to view this parable only in relation to those who have committed some great grievous and public sin; or those who in some very visible way have broken faith with God and with the Church; or those whose lifestyles we may ‘judge’ as not in keeping with the Gospel values.

But the truth is, every time we say or do anything that is contrary to the teachings of Christ and His Church; each time we sin, even in a small way, we distance ourselves from God; we turn away from that closeness of that relationship with God.  We take the gifts that God has given us, and in effect behave like the younger son in the parable of the prodigal and say, ‘I’m more interested in what I can get from you, than being close to you; I will take everything you have to give me, but I don’t want a relationship with you because that suggests commitment and changing my focus from me to you.”

Fortunately for us, God is like the father in this parable; yes, the son has to make the first move, deciding he wants to return home, but that’s the extent of his work in this ‘reunion’.  The father is constantly watching the horizon, waiting for the day that his child will come back to him;

However we stray or wander away from God, He always waits for us to return.  Whenever we admit our own failings, and turn back to Him, to re-enter that relationship with Him, He rejoices with the angels.  He runs to meet us, and embraces us, and He says to each of us, “I’m just glad you’re home.”

prodigal son

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

4th Sunday of Lent

When I was young, I used to really get annoyed when visiting relatives would say, ‘you look like your father’. It wasn’t just in physical appearance though. Apparently there were expressions, mannerisms and gestures that I had adopted from my father as I grew up.  That was part of that relationship; growing to somehow imitate, even unintentionally,my father.

Relationship is the key to understanding the parable that we read today in St. Luke’s Gospel – it is the account of what is often referred to as ‘the Prodigal Son’; sometimes it is more fittingly called the parable of ‘the Loving Father’.  Whichever perspective you choose to take though, ultimately this parable is about relationship; Jesus uses the circumstances between a father and his two sons (not just the younger son) to express God’s loving generosity and desire for relationship with His children.

 This passage starts with those who consider themselves ‘righteous’ (Pharisees and scribes) complaining that Jesus is mixing with sinners at a meal – a meal being a close and intimate setting of welcome and hospitality.  Jesus then relates the parable to those who ‘practice’ their faith by regulation,concerning those who stray.  We’ve all heard the parable numerous times in numerous ways, so I won’t repeat the entire thing here; but it is important to recognize that both sons in the parable fail to enter directly into relationship with their father; they are both more concerned with ‘getting what they want’ than simply accepting their father’s love and generosity for what it is.

We know the younger son, who really wasn’t entitled to any property given the culture of the time, demanding and being given his share of ‘the inheritance’; he completely takes the privileged life he’s led for granted, and in a final act of ingratitude basically says to his father, ‘ I wish you were dead; the only thing standing between me and what I want – material wealth and pleasure – is you.’ (Remember, it’s an inheritance – you only get the inheritance normally when someone dies.)

Even when he decides to return to his father, it’s not for any great conversion of heart or spiritual awakening; it’s basic need.  He’s hungry, and he knows his father has much and he can at least get shelter and a decent meal as an employee; so he rehearses a grand speech to ‘soften dad up’, to convince his father to feed and house him.

Even the elder son, when news of his brother’s return arrives, misses the point. He starts listing off all the things he has ‘done’ for his father, expecting something in return; a kind of ‘quid pro quo’ – you owe me x because I did y.

 Neither of these sons realizes that all the father wants is to continually give to his children, to have them close, to love them and have them love Him. 

To the younger son, he cuts him off when he starts off his rehearsed speech and embracing him rejoices that he is returned so the father can have him near, simply to ‘be’ with him.  To the elder son, instead of negotiating a reasonable compensation for all of his work, he tells him ‘you are always with me and all that is mine is yours.’

We all have times when we drift away from what we know to be what God calls us to; times when we put our own ambitions or desires or wants ahead of what we are truly called to – other times we can become ‘annoyed’ that God hasn’t responded to our prayers or our desires the way we think He should.  When we begin to think God ‘owes us’ because we practice our faith or have spent our time in devotions to get something we want from God.  There is enough of the younger son and elder son in each of us that this parable should speak volumes to our own spirituality and our own consciences.

But it is in recognizing that all the Father desires is to have His children close, to provide for them, and to have them live in relationship with Him, that we really come to appreciate this parable, the Church, and those around us.  Living out that relationship, we can truly become a reflection of God’s desire for that same relationship with everyone around us; that others will find that we too ‘look like our Father’.

prodigal son

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!