Saturday, 5 March 2016

Fourth Sunday of Lent 2016

The Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year C, gives us the beautiful parable of the "Prodigal Son". Prodigality is a word that indicates over the top expressions of one's favour; extravagant and lavished. It is the father's prodigality of forgiving love that inspires the title of this parable. It might also be known as The parable of “The Wayward Son” or “The Prodigal Father” or the “Indignant Elder Brother”.

The following is a meditation on Luke's gospel text.

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.”

When speaking about religion in those days, people thought of it in the concrete. Seeing is believing. Parables are mysteries made visible.

“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.

This is an insult to the father. (Your taking too long to die. I'm missing out on MY fulfillment. It's all about me.

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.

He leaves a world that is shaped around God's revealed truth and enters a world that is man made and man-centered.

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.

"Freely spent". It's mine, I will do with it as I choose. This son's truth and morality are subjective.
Subjective truth is a chaotic whirl wind snatching up all in its path. You do not shape a tornado, it shapes you.

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.”’

This son has learned the hard way what his father, no doubt, tried to teach him; that only truth can make you truly free. From the Garden until now, the deception has been that we are the ones who define what is truth that makes us happy.
God alone defines truth. We must remain in communion with our Father who leads us to all truth.

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.

Here we encounter "the Face of Mercy". The father knows that there is only one place that will give his son back his life - with him, in the father's house.

One does not "deserve" to be called son or daughter, you are so, by God's design.

Two dynamics are at play here, repentance and forgiveness. The son knows and desires the salvation of the father's house; all be it, a imperfect contrition. The compassionate mercy of the father, a love that never stopped loving, restores to the son everything that was lost.

Mercy is salvation. You are either dead or alive. The Father alone can offer us life. Which will we choose?  

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.’

The older son is no better than his brother when it comes to appreciating what it means to be in the fathers house. Each is motivated by self interest. The younger brother chooses to leave for a "better life". Wrong. The older brother chooses to remain but misses what makes life worth living, LOVE.

The younger brother is the first to understand this truth. Now it is the older brother's turn to learn.

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.’

The older son sees his brother, not as a brother, but as a worthless sinner, (this son of yours) deserving only the consequences of his sins. 
Small "s" saints, the stay-at-home church goers, suffer the same problem - believing that obeying makes you deserving. Obeying helps you avoid the certainty of the death of sin, but it does not fill the undead life with peace and joy - the reason for being alive. 

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.’”

In the end, we must come to understand that we have been formed into vessels capable of being filled up with love - a life-giving love that only the Father can give. It is given to overflowing, and when it overflows, it gives life to all that is empty around us.


The Face of Mercy
Only love understands mercy.

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