Homily: God’s Love For All Us Sinners
Today our celebration is that of the 4th Sunday of Lent, once called ‘Laetare Sunday’, meaning ‘the Day to Rejoice’. It is a reminder that the purpose of Lent should not let us forget the meaning for our sacrifice and conversion, the wonderful Resurrection of Jesus. Our parish Lenten theme continues, ‘Seeking God’, and our theme this week is ‘Reconcile’.
When we read the parables of Jesus, we need to remember that the obvious story is not always the point that Jesus was really trying to emphasize. The story in today’s gospel about a father and his two sons is an old story. In hearing it, those present had to be reminded of the story of Jacob and Esau, where the younger and rebellious son tricked his father Isaac into promising his inheritance to him and thereby bypassing the elder son, who is very dutiful but also rather dull. The Jewish audience in the old story is convinced that justice has been done.
In Luke’s parable, however, the focus of attention is on the father, not on the Prodigal Son, and especially on his reaction to the elder son’s anger. The twist that Jesus adds to the story is the refusal of the father to reject his elder son who in fact is treated by his father with surprising gentleness. The father is in reality God, who loves his dull and dutiful children just as much as those who are wild and perhaps a bit more interesting.
The wisdom expressed in this well-known and beloved parable teaches us that human sin can take the form of wild and rebellious behavior or, perhaps more commonly, of sullen, angry and judgmental attitudes.
Civil law, the law of the courts, is concerned almost exclusively with rebellious behavior but, in the parable, it is clear that the sinfulness of the elder son is much more dangerous. Those of us who lead quiet and “responsible” lives may very well fall into the trap of sullen, resentful and angry attitudes toward others who seem to be ‘getting away with murder’.
What we need to ask ourselves is whether we have the kind of love that can understand why others, often less privileged than ourselves, may need both correction and forgiveness.
When the elder son in the parable says to his father, “this son of yours”, (and, by implication, no brother of mine), has done wrong and should be punished, the father gently corrects him with the words, “this brother of yours” (and not just my son) “was dead and has come to life again.” This wayward son has indeed sinned but he has also repented and has paid a price for his sin. Now it is time to rejoice.
The clear point is that we dare not ever disown any of our brothers and sisters, who are all children of God. On the contrary, we have to love them and rejoice to see them have a chance to repent and be brought back to life again. And this is true of all sorts of people, including both the village prankster and the person on death row. We may feel that some people do not deserve a second chance but the danger of such a judgment is underscored in the challenging words of Jesus that “the measure you give is the measure that will be given back to you” .
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.