The 4th Sunday of Lent
First Reading: Joshua 5:9-12
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 34:2-7
Second Reading: St. Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Corinthians 5:17-21
Gospel: According to St. Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
One of the great hallmarks of the public ministry of Jesus is His parables. We know of 41 times Jesus told stories to His audience in order relate His teaching to the common experiences of His followers. This week’s Gospel selection is maybe the most well-known of all of the parables – the Parable of the Lost Son.
This parable is often called the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and for good reason. The word prodigal means ‘wasteful,’ and the younger son is certainly wasteful of the inheritance that his father has bestowed upon him. My scripture professor in college made the point that it could just as easily be called the Parable of the Prodigal Father since another meaning of prodigal is ‘extravagantly reckless,’ and the father is nothing if not prodigal in his love for the lost son.
This parable, as with all of the parables, can be seen on a number of levels. The most obvious level is that which focuses on that extravagantly reckless father. Just as the father forgives the lost son, so does the Father in Heaven forgive each of us. This is comforting, but it also reminds us that we must get up out of the pigsty of our sin and move towards the Father. The move need not be much, but it must be a move. I read of one penitent who said to a priest that he was sorry that he wasn’t sorry for what he had done and the priest told him that, although his contrition was certainly very imperfect, at least it was a start and it gave God something with which to work.
Those who would shake their heads in dismay at this incredible leniency only need to look at why this parable was told by Jesus in the first place. He is responding to the Pharisees and the scribes who are upset that Jesus would “welcome sinners and eat with them.” In the parable the father welcomes his sinful son and prepares a feast for him. On a literal level Jesus is doing just as the father in the parable does. On a spiritual level Jesus is simply living out the will of His Father in Heaven.
Years ago I heard a priest describe the Final Judgment as a massive gathering of the souls of all who have ever lived and who have been brought together to hear their eternal fate. A rumor breaks out in the crowd that in the end the Father is going to forgive everyone and that all will, eventually, get to Heaven. Some in the crowd begin to grumble and point at those who they believe are the type of sinners who certainly do not deserve Heaven. The rumor turned out to be only partly true. It seems that all were given an eventual place in Heaven except those who were upset with the rumor.
The mercy of God, like all of His attributes, is limitless and extends to all, even to the most prodigal of His sons and daughters. Rather than be dismayed at the fact that every, as I like to say in class, ‘schnook and no-goodnik’ can receive God’s mercy and eventually get to Heaven it might be better to be thrilled by the idea of a loving Father whose mercy includes everyone who makes the slightest move in His direction – even that schnook and no-goodnick in the mirror.