March 6, 2016 - Fourth Sunday of Lent Reading 1 Jos 5:9a, 10-12
Responsorial Psalm Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
- (9a) Taste and see the goodness of the Lord. Reading 2 2 Cor 5:17-21
Verse Before the Gospel Lk 15:18
Gospel Lk 15:1-3, 11-32
Homily— March 5 & 6, 2016
Once again we have the opportunity to reflect on the parable that Jesus shares with the Pharisees and scribes and the sinners and tax collectors and the disciples. This is a time to rejoice as we see that God, the forgiving and merciful Father, is there, ever-present, ever welcoming each and all of us. How do we see ourselves in this parable? Are we the younger son or daughter, the elder son or daughter? Maybe we are called to be like the father.
Originally, this parable was probably addressed to those who criticized the fact that Jesus associated and ate with sinners. Such “reprehensible” behavior was an affront to scribes and Pharisees alike; nevertheless, Jesus did not relent in his outreach to sinners. Doesn’t this great love of God for us even before we repent make our repentance possible.
Brendan Byrne suggests that this parable also prompts us to ask ourselves if we really know God, and if we are comfortable with the God who loves so lavishly, forgives so freely and wishes to be reconciled with every sinner.
Neither son had a grasp of his true relationship with the father. The younger son didn’t see what he had. He imagined that he could have a better life away from his father and family. He left with his inheritance.
The older son also did not see what he had. However, this son stayed at home and did what was expected of him. But his heart was not in it. Inside, he may have been jealous of his brother, who had the nerve to ask for his inheritance and then skipped out to squander it on loose living.
Both the Israelites, in the first reading, and the younger son had come to realize their folly while they were in exile, far from home. Their reaction was to think that God was punishing them. However, God had not been out to get them. God accompanied them, and God sorrowed over their distress. The father in the Gospel story is a figure of God, who sorrows over the son’s loss and yearns for the son’s return and reunion with him and the family just as God desires our return when we fall into a habit of sin.
Sometimes, like the two sons in the parable, we entertain all the wrong things. The prodigal son entertained all the wrong desires. The elder son entertained anger and jealousy, pettiness and closed heartedness. Repentance helps us entertain the right things. Our human tendency is to think we can make a go of life on our own. If we are happy to settle for minimums some of us can muddle through life reasonably well. This parable reminds us that God offers us so much more. God offers mercy and forgiveness leading to new Life.
I read a true story that happened in South Africa after the end of apartheid. Police officer van de Broek had testified how he and other officers had shot a teenager and then burned the body. A few years later, van de Broek and others killed the boy’s father.
The Commission turned to the grieved mother and widow and asked her in front of van de Broek, “What do you want from Mr. van de Broek?” She indicated that first that she wanted him to go to the place of her husband’s death and gather up the dirt so that she could give her husband a proper burial. The policeman nodded his head that he was willing to do this.
Next she said: “Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him. And I would like Mr. Van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him too. I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real.” Van de Broek, overwhelmed by what she said, fainted.
That is a modern day real life story of forgiveness. May we grow in our ability to be forgiving.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.