Gospel – Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

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.”
So to them Jesus addressed this parable:
“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.
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.
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.
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.”’
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.
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.’
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.’
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.’”

Robert-SchaeferReflection on the Gospel from Br. Robert Schaefer, FSC

Let us remember we are in the holy presence of God.

If you look closely at the citation for today’s Gospel reading, it begins with the first three verses of the chapter and then jumps to the 11th verse. These first 3 verses set the context: the Scribes and Pharisees “began to complain because “tax collectors and sinners were drawing near to listen to Jesus.” Before we get to today’s reading, Jesus uses verses 4 -10 to tell two other parables – the Lost Sheep (Lk 15: 4-7) and the Lost Coin (Lk 15: 8-10). It appears that Jesus is trying to address the grumbling and complaining of the Scribes and Pharisees. Why are they so miserable? Why are they actively resisting Jesus’ message? As religious leaders, shouldn’t they be happy that tax collectors and sinners seem to be listening to a Rabbi?

Jesus recognizes their crankiness and sets them up for a confrontation with the true meaning of Mercy and Forgiveness in the Kingdom of God that comes in today’s parable. Jesus starts with seemingly simple imagery of the lost sheep and coin. In both of these stories, it’s not people who are lost but possessions. Perhaps the religious-types listening could have better identified with these ideas. It’s after he gets their attention, that Jesus tells the parable of parables in the story of the Prodigal Son.

In telling this story, Jesus doesn’t minimize the sin of the younger son and it would have shocked and angered all who were listening – especially the professional religious types. The son’s offenses were bad and would have been extremely hurtful to his father. In the economics of the time, it would have put the father’s own security at risk and the fact that an Israelite eventually became a slave to a foreigner would be a deep shame to the family’s reputation in a culture where this was significant. But the gravity of his sins is matched by the sincerity of his repentance. This young man mustered up the humility to realize the consequence of his actions and see how unhealthy his behavior was – recognition seems to be the first step in any kind of repentance. This kid knows that he’s got to face his father and he’s ready to do so in the most humble of ways – hoping to be a slave and get some bread. He is relying only on his father’s mercy. I imagine him nervously practicing his repentance speech, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you,” over and over in his head all the way home – kind of like we do when approaching the Sacrament of Reconciliation. His anxiety is probably building as he gets closer to home.

The loving father, who clearly respected the freedom of his son to make his own choices, didn’t disown him but probably thought about him every day. “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.” In Jesus’ time, the normal position for the father and patriarch of the family was to be seated and the sons would approach their father with deference and respect. Again, we can see the Scribes and Pharisees turning red in the face as Jesus told the story. And then when the father decides to clothe him in a robe and have a banquet for this sinful and repentant son, some of the Pharisees must have fainted!

Instead of ending the story at that happy part, Jesus saves the best for last. He introduces the character of the older brother who clearly represents the grumbling Scribes and Pharisees, and maybe us? The older brother is out working when all the excitement of the repentant son occurs and he hears of all this from a servant. Once he hears about the killing of the fatted calf his anger boils over and he refuses to go to the banquet. Again, it is the father who takes the initiative and seeks out this other son. This older son feels he has earned his father’s favor because of all his hard work. He is so bold as to claim he has never sinned – even though refusing to attend the banquet could be considered one. It is the sin of self-righteousness that afflicts this older brother and the religious leaders who were so put out by Jesus’ association with tax collectors and sinners.

The younger son repents while the older brother resents. The prodigal son opens his heart to his father’s forgiveness while the older brother bristles over the fact that he didn’t get what he deserved and his brother got what he didn’t deserve!

During this year of Mercy we are all challenged to examine our resentments and recognize our moments of self-righteousness so that we can be more like the younger son and open our hearts to God’s love and forgiveness while at the same time rejoicing over the forgiveness of others – especially those we think are worse sinners than ourselves!

Reflection Questions

  1. When in your life have you been the prodigal son? How did Jesus enter your heart so that you were humbled, and asked for forgiveness?

  2. When in your life have you been the older brother? How did Jesus enter your heart so as to set aside your resentments, and act as the father, showing mercy and forgiveness?

  3. How can we during this Lenten season, and Jubilee Year of Mercy, be more merciful in our everyday interactions, just as the father in Luke’s Gospel?

St. John Baptist de La Salle — Pray for us.
Live Jesus in Our Hearts — Forever!