eraii The Word
Fourth Sunday of Lent :-Ioshuah 5: 9-12; 2 Cor 5: 17-21; Luke 15: 1-3; 11-32
he parable of today's Gospel is universally known as the . parable of the prodigal son. It could aptly be renamed the parable of the prodigious father. The generosity in this story belongs entirely to the father. The ingratitude and self indulgence of the younger son dominate the earlier part of the narrative. Repentance, when it comes, is more concerned with survival than a genuine change of heart.
• "How many of my father's paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father." The repentance of the younger son, however it continued, had its beginnings in self-interest. Hunger had laid hare his transgressions.
Perhaps we should not to be too hasty in pointing out the imperfect repentance of the younger son. We can all call to mind the sinfulness that we have tolerated in ourselves until the shame of discovery has prompted us to change our ways. The starting point for our repentance can often spring from what others might think in the shame of our discovery.
Whatever the reasons, the son took that first step in returning to the father and placing himself in his mercy. A wise man once said that we can often begin doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, and, with God's grace, end up doing the right thing for the right reasons.
The welcome of the father was truly
prodigious. Our forgiveness can be very manipulative There was nothing of this in the unrestrained joy with which the Father welcomed his younger son. The elder son puts into words the thoughts that we will often feel as we react to the story. What is the point of living life according to the rules when transgression is met with such unqualified generosity? The questioning is all the more acute when we feel that our virtue has been overlooked. Put bluntly, it is simply not fair.
This very human reaction demonstrates the gulf between human and divine forgiveness. We often say that we will forgive, but we cannot forget. By this we often mean that in our forgiveness we will withhold something of ourselves, and that the person forgiven will never he totally free of the harm that they have done us.
Sinful human nature is fundamentally selfish, and is rarely so free of its own preoccupations that it can abandon itself to the joy of the forgiven sinner. The father of the parable gently brings this consideration to the eldet son.
"My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right that we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life. He was lost and is found." It was not the transgression of his brother that prevented the elder brother rejoicing. The causes lay within himself and his preoccupation with his own importance. Similar preoccupations will often block the forgiveness for which we pray daily in the Lord's prayer.
Left to ourselves, we cannot forgive with such generosity. We know our limits. For such forgiving to be ours, something truly extraordinary would need to touch our hearts. We believe that this is exactly what happens when we turn to Christ. For anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; it is all God's work. God can create anew our unforgiving hearts, such is the forgiveness with which he receives us.