Fourth Sunday of Lent Year C
Extravagant outpouring of mercy, unconditional forgiveness, acceptance, rejection and prodigal God are some of the words that lead us into the central message of this Sunday. Once again this Sunday the readings offer us an opportunity to reflect on the central Lenten theme of reconciliation. We celebrate the Lord who welcomes sinners and eats with them. But we are called a ministry of reconciliation. After 40 years of pilgrimage and desert experience, the Israelites under the leadership of Joshua, for the first time enter their promised Land. This is a sign of reconciliation, and in thanksgiving they joyfully celebrate the Passover because the Lord has delivered them from the shame of slavery. Against this background, Paul in the second reading reminds us that God reconciled us to himself through Christ, and “gave us the work of handing on this reconciliation.” Because we have experienced God's reconciling love in Christ, we are sent as messengers to proclaim the same message of Christ, “be reconciled to God” We are therefore called to heal the wounds of division and alienation in community; to be peacemakers by bringing about reconciliation.
The parable of the Lost son (also known as prodigal), perhaps one of the most popular parables, continues the theme of reconciliation. The context is important. The Pharisees and the Scribes began to complain, that Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them and therefore Jesus tells them this story. The story touches deep cords in the fiber of Christians because it reminds them of real stories of family members who left home and headed for the bid cities and disappeared there, and later returned home after many years completely broke, after squandering all they had. Alienation from home is a common experience in society today. So the story is addressed to us of today.
The key to understanding the story in the Gospel is found in the elder son's inability to understand his father's forgiveness and generosity towards the younger son who turns up after squandering everything he had received. The elder son's attitude towards his brother is one of rejection, while that of his father is one of total acceptance and forgiveness, because his son was dead and has come back to life; was lost and is found. The elder son could not understand how this looser could now be rewarded with a banquet. But let us track back to what led the young son to decide to get back home. We are told in the parable that he back to his senses. In other words he had not realized until then the emptiness of what he was doing with himself in that pig-sty. The awareness of his own empty self-indulgence, finally leads the younger son to his senses and decides to get back home because he felt he could honestly face his father and ask for forgiveness. In every broken relationship that is always the first step: the awareness that I could say sorry, forgive me. The second step was to rise and go back home. The scene is quite emotional: “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”. What follows thereafter is an act of total forgiveness and reconciliation sealed with a banquet and celebration. t would seem that the Pharisees and scribes understood they were being compared to the elder son who rejects even his own brother “this son of yours” language, as compared to the father's welcoming language “this brother of yours”. On the one hand we have a language of rejection, and on the other, a language of reconciliation. There are three points that we could take home as the message of this Sunday: 1) The second reading reminds us that we are sent as ambassadors with the message of reconciliation to our sisters and brothers who may have fallen astray and show them the way back home. 2) We too like Jesus must dare to be accused of welcoming and eating with sinners, and unlike the elder son we must rejoice in their homecoming. 3) Is a prayer that we too may get the grace necessary to come to our senses during this Lenten season, and like the young son, return to our compassionate and forgiving Father.
©2013 John S. Mbinda