Two sons and a Homecoming

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

Fourth Sunday of Lent

What does a child usually do when he has offended his father? First, he avoids him. If this is not possible, he makes sure that he is in the presence of a third person, especially his mother. When confronted with the offense, he plays dumb or if this does not work, he uses a rehearsed answer, usually blaming someone else. His father, on the other hand, hopes that the child will admit his offense so he can tell him that he was already forgiven. We see this father's attitude and more in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk. 15:1–3;11–32) or as preferred by others, the Parable of the Forgiving Father.

The younger of two sons asked his father for his inheritance. This not only insulted the father but also deeply hurt him, an inheritance being given only after death and he was still very much alive. But ever ready to respect his son's freedom, he gave in to his son's request and sadly allowed him to leave home.

Later and as Luke wrote, “he came to his senses” and he decided to return to his father. What led him to this? After his inheritance was gone, he had himself hired to tend pigs in order to survive — the worst task imaginable for Jews since they considered pigs unclean. But confronted with starvation, he had no choice. He crafted a short speech asking his father not to consider him as his son anymore but just as a hired worker — a far from noble motive since he only thought of his desperate situation and not of the hurt he had caused his father.

The whole time that his son was away, the father eagerly awaited his return; if the son had let go of his father, the father had not let go of his son. Then one 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.” All the son was able to say was, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.” For the father, that was that more than enough, he would not be distracted by a rehearsed speech. He forthwith ordered his servants to put on his son the finest robe — the symbol of honor; a ring on his finger — the symbol of authority; and sandals — the symbol of freedom. Not only that, he threw a big welcome home party. Why? Because as he later told his resentful elder son who stayed behind, “your brother was dead and has come to life again.”

Obviously in the parable, Jesus was talking about the mercy and prodigality of His own Father Who is just waiting for our return from a life of sin to His warm embrace. This because His love for us always remains unchanged. All He asks of us is to respond to His offer of love. Everytime this happens, He throws a big feast, with the heavens ringing with joy.

How did the elder son react to all this? When he returned from the field, “he heard the sound of music and dancing.” When he asked the servants why, they told him about the return of his brother. On hearing this, he refused to enter the house and join the party. He just could not forgive his brother for what he had done. So his father went out a second time, tried to make him understand so as to win him over. Whether the elder son was convinced or not, Luke did not tell us.

The parable was narrated by Jesus in the presence of tax collectors and sinners “who were drawn to listen to Him” and the Scribes and Pharisees who were ever ready to contradict Him or set traps for Him. Luke's intention was obvious. The younger son could be counted among the tax collectors and sinners whose faith was expressed in the prayer of one tax collector: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Lk. 18:13).

On the other hand, the elder son was no different than the ever righteous Scribes and Pharisees who criticized Jesus for being with sinners: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Why? Because they held it as God's duty to exterminate the wicked. Moreover, they believed that they could merit salvation by their own good deeds. This last was exactly the message of the elder son when he told his father, “All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.” In effect, he viewed his fidelity to his father as slavery since he served out of duty and not out of love. Mistakenly feeling unloved, is it any wonder that he could not share his father's joy?

We carry parts of the two sons in us — the younger son who wants to grasp everything for himself and the elder son who makes others pay for his loveless fidelity. But like the younger son, let us pray for the grace “to come to our senses” and return to the Father who awaits us, ready with His forgiveness. This we can do through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Let us avail of this sacrament during one of the remaining days of Lent so that we, too, will return to our Father's home.