Saturday, March 3, 2018
Season of Lent
1) Opening prayer
Faithful Father, You are our God
of grace, mercy and forgiveness.
When mercy and pardon
sound paternalistic to modern ears, make us realize, Lord,
that You challenge us to face ourselves
and to become new people,
responsible for our destiny
and for the happiness of others.
Make us responsive to Your love
through Christ Jesus our Lord.
2) Gospel Reading - Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." So to them Jesus addressed this parable. "A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.' So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, 'How many of my father's hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers."' So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.' But his father ordered his servants, 'Quickly, bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.' Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, 'Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.' He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, 'Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.' He said to him, 'My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.'"
• Chapter 15 of Luke’s Gospel includes the following information: The tax collectors and sinners were all crowding around to listen to Him and the Pharisees and Scribes complained saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Lk 15:1-3). Luke presents these three parables which are bound together by the same theme: the lost sheep (Lk 15:4-7), the lost drachma (Lk 15:8-10), the lost son (Lk 15:11-32). This last parable constitutes the theme of today’s Gospel.
• Luke 15:11-13: The younger son’s decision. A man had two sons. The younger one asks for the part of the estate which will be his. The father divides everything between the two and each receives his part. To receive the inheritance is not any merit of ours. It is a gratuitous gift. The inheritance of the gifts of God is distributed among all human beings, whether Jewish or Gentiles, whether Christians or non-Christians. All receive something of the inheritance of the Father, but not all take care of it in the same way. The younger son leaves and goes to a distant country and squanders his money on a life of debauchery, getting away from the father. At the time of Luke, the elder one represented the communities which came from Judaism, and the younger represented the gentile communities. Today, who would be the younger and who the elder?
• Luke 15:14-19: The disillusionment and the will to return to the father’s home. The need to find some food makes the young man lose his freedom, and he becomes a farm worker and takes care of the pigs. This was the condition of life of millions of slaves in the Roman Empire at the time of Luke. The situation in which he finds himself makes the young man remember how he was in his father’s home. Finally, he prepares the words which he will say to his Father: “I no longer deserve to be called your son! Treat me as one of your hired men!” The hired man executes the orders and fulfills the law of servants. The younger son wants to fulfill the law as the Pharisees and the Scribes of the time of Jesus wanted (Lk 15:1). The missionaries of the Pharisees accused the Gentiles who were converted to the God of Abraham (Mt 23:15). At the time of Luke, some Christians who converted from Judaism submitted themselves to the yoke of the Law (Gal 1:6-10).
• Luke 15:20-24: The joy of the father when he meets his younger son again. The parable says that the younger son was still a long way off from the house, but the father saw him, and ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him. The impression given by Jesus is that the Father remained all the time at the window to see if his son would appear around the corner. According to our human way of thinking and feeling, the joy of the father seems exaggerated. He does not even allow his son to finish his words. Nobody listens! The father does not want his son to be his slave. He wants him to be his son! This is the Good News which Jesus has brought to us! A new robe, new sandals, a ring on his finger, the calf, the feast! In the immense joy of the encounter, Jesus allows us to see how great the sadness of the father is because of the loss of his son. God was very sad and the people now become aware of this, seeing the immense joy of the father because of the encounter with his son! It is joy shared with all in the feast that he has prepared.
• Luke 15:25-28b: The reaction of the older son. The older son returns from his work in the fields and finds that there is a feast in the house. He refuses to enter. He wants to know what is happening. When he is told the reason for the feast, he is very angry and does not want to go in. He thinks that he is in the right. He does not like the feast and he does not understand the why of his father’s joy. This is a sign that he did not have great intimacy with the father, in spite of their having lived in the same house. In fact, if he had had this intimacy, he would have noticed the father’s sadness for the loss of his younger son and would have understood his joy when the son returned. Those who live in a state of anxiety about the observance of the Law of God run the risk of forgetting God himself! The young son, even being far away from home, seemed to know the father better than the older son who lived with him. The younger one had the courage to go back home to his father, while the older one no longer wants to enter the the father’s house. He does not realize that the father, without him, will lose his joy, because he, the older son, is son as much as the younger one!
• Luke 15:28a-30: The attitude of the father and the older son’s response. The Father goes out of the house and begs the older son to come inside. But the son answers, “All these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed any orders of yours, 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 loose women, you kill the calf we had been fattening.” The older son also wants feast and joy, but only with his own friends, not with his brother and much less with his father. He does not even call his own brother “brother,” but rather “this son of yours,” as if he were no longer his brother. And he, the older brother, speaks about prostitutes. His malice makes him interpret his younger brother’s life in this way. How many times does the older brother misinterpret the life of the younger brother. How many times do we misinterpret the life and the practices of others! The attitude of the father is the contrary! He accepts the younger son but does not want to lose the older son. Both of them form part of the family. One cannot exclude the other!
• Luke 15:31-32: The father’s final response. Like the father who does not pay attention to the arguments of the younger son, in the same way he does not pay attention to those of the older son. He says, “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!” Was the older son really aware that he was always with his father and found in his presence the reason for his joy? The father’s declaration - “All I have is yours!” also includes the younger son who has returned! The older brother does not have the right to make a distinction, and if he wants to be the father’s son, he has to accept the father as he is and not as he would like him to be! The parable does not say what was the older brother’s final response. It is up to the older son, who we are, to give it!
• The one who experiences the gratuitous and surprising eruption of the love of God in his life becomes joyful and wishes to communicate this joy to others. The salvific action of God is a source of joy: “Rejoice with me!” (Lk 15:6,9). And from this experience of God’s gratuitousness the sense of feast and joy emerges (Lk 15:32). At the end of the parable, the father asks them to be happy and to celebrate, to feast. The joy is threatened by the older son, who does not want to enter the house. He thinks he has the right to joy only with his own friends and does not want to share joy with all the members of the same human family. He represents those who consider themselves just and observant, and who think that they do not need any conversion, just like the keepers of the Law in Jesus’ time.
4) Personal questions
• What is the image of God that I have had since my childhood? Has it changed as I changed, and why?
• With which of the two sons do I identify with: the younger one or the older one? Why?
• This parable has references to communities (Pharisees/Gentiles) as well as to individuals. Do those references apply today?
5) Concluding Prayer
Bless Yahweh, my soul,
from the depths of my being, His holy name;
bless Yahweh, my soul,
never forget all His acts of kindness. (Ps 103:1-2)