Gospel for March 6th, 2016: The Fourth Sunday of Lent
I consistently feel a deep resonance when I hear Jesus’s parable of the Prodigal Son. At times, I remember that I have been the son who went off to pursue freedom and pleasure, squandering the gifts given to me by the Father, only to recognize my sinfulness and return in humiliation. Indeed, I spent many years as a fallen-away Catholic. The welcoming love of God and His Church on my return continues to amaze me. Our God is a merciful God and I am grateful for His forgiveness at my willfulness.
At other times I have been the jealous brother, the rule-follower who secretly hopes everyone notices his good deeds and looks with envy on others successes of the attention of those who seemed less deserving. This is a bad way, to be so consumed with self-centeredness as to miss the blessings and grace of the Father at work in our lives. I am ashamed to admit to such feelings, but it is true. This parable serves as a powerful reminder to put God and others first.
Unlike those first two experiences, I noticed on this reading that I have never related emotionally to the father in the story, who welcomes home the prodigal son with unconditional forgiveness and patiently counsels the jealous son to see the blessing in his return. Could it be that I have never openly forgiven one who wronged me or acted with mercy to one in desperate need of unconditional love? In all honesty, I think I have, many times on recollection, especially as a parent. However, it is a little disconcerting that I had to think so hard to remember. Perhaps, it means I am not seeking out the opportunities to welcome home the wayward souls around me. Maybe, I am still too preoccupied with myself to extend a joyful hand to the needy in my presence with regularity. This is really where this gospel begins, with Jesus inviting sinners from all walks of life to His table, despite the protests from the Pharisees. The message is not just that I am invited, but also that, as a Christian, I need to join the welcoming committee.
I pray that as Lent continues I stand ready for those times where I am called to play the role of the father, non-judgmental and compassionate, to all the prodigal children and jealous siblings that may cross my path in the coming weeks. May I do for them what has been done for me many times over.