“When anyone is joined to Christ, they are a new being, the old is gone, the new has come.”
These words of St. Paul in the second reading of today´s liturgy (2 Cor. 5:17-21) could well be a door of entrance to today´s Gospel, the Parable of the Prodigal Son or as some call it the Parable of the Repentant Sinner, which is the dominant note of today´s liturgy.
It is a narrative which has left profound marks and expressions not only on theology but also on the history of art and literature.
Jesus told this parable as a reaction to the murmurings and complaining of the Pharisees who were criticising Him for eating with publicans and sinners. The drama begins and ends with a story of love.
The younger son decides to leave home and asks for his share of the inheritance. He not only abandons in an unthankful way the family nucleus which up to then has been his support, but to ask for his inheritance means that, as far as the son is concerned, his father from now on, has died. This is tragic: to kill the heart of his father, someone who still lives and who has done so much for his son. To live as if the father did not exist, in the language of faith, means to live as if God does not exist. This younger son could include many of us, who for very different reasons have distanced themselves from the Church, and even from God, in their lives. We fall easily into materialism and superficiality of the pleasures of this life. This happens to the younger son, and even worse. He had lost all dignity, a Jew herding pigs. He even envied the pigs which had something to eat. But this son has not lost the memory of his early life. It is this that becomes a catalyst to change his way. He decides that he will go to his Father and say, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants.” Even before he arrives, the Father sees him, runs to meet him, welcomes and embraces him. He doesn´t allow the son to give his prepared speech, he calls for the best robe to honour him, a ring to show he is still His son, and sandals to show he is no slave but a member of the family.
This is the love God the Father has for His sons and daughters, His limitless mercy, His boundless and unfailing love. The Father is always there waiting for us with open arms, whenever we are sorry for sinning against Him, and even before that.
The elder son however, was angry when he heard the music and celebration, and learned it was because his erring brother had returned, and he refused to go in. He is indignant at the injustice of the situation. He himself had “worked like a slave and obeyed all the commands” of his father. He has the mentality of a hired servant. It is as if he had never really known his Father. That is why he could not understand the Father´s love, why he was shocked by that display of love. He disowns his brother and calls him ‘this son of yours´. He is gently reminded that this returned son ‘is your brother’ and he was reassured by the Father: “You are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” He is invited to join the joy of the celebrations. Only so will he know his Father as Father. Unfortunately today, there are many Christians who would empathise with the elder son, and are resentful that God should be more concerned with the wayward ones than with His faithful servants. The truth is that those for whom God is a loving Father are moved to share the Father´s yearning for the homecoming of the lost ones. They know that the Father´s love is inexhaustible, know that they will not be loved less because the Father´s love embraces others. They will rejoice because of God´s wonderful generosity and be full of joy, as we all are invited to do on this Laetare Sunday.
Sr. Aedris Coates OP