Today we hear a story about a dramatic family situation which for centuries has been called, “The Prodigal Son.” We all know who that refers to, right? The wayward “wild child” who squandered his dad’s money on wine, women, and song, (and I don’t mean the “Ave Maria”).
Well, maybe not. Some theologians suggest that perhaps this story should be re-named “The Prodigal Father.” Because the word “prodigal” can refer to a wasteful spendthrift or someone who is extravagant in their generosity and love—forgiving beyond all boundaries, as the father in this story did. It is this last definition that gave the Pharisees problems.
They asked Jesus, “How do you eat and drink with sinners?” For Jesus, the love of God is almost opposite of their ideas of how a good, “righteous” Jewish father should behave. Because the father’s forgiving actions were very shocking to Jesus’ listeners.
In the Middle East, if a son demands his share of the inheritance early, it is his way of wishing his father dead. When the son finally crawls home, no one can believe it: the father sees the son and runs to him. As the gospel says, “then the celebration began.”
What about the older son’s jealousy? God always says to us both “Welcome home” AND “Beloved, you are with me always, and everything I have is yours.” All of us at some point are both of those brothers. We can also be the forgiver for the troubled one who needs extra understanding, and for the jealous one.
“Why do you eat with sinners?” Jesus answers: Because God rejoices and invites us to rejoice, too. Will I join in the rejoicing? One moment of true repentance, or of true forgiveness, is all that is needed.
“Jesus reveals the nature of God as that of a Father who never gives up until he has forgiven the wrong and overcome rejection with compassion and mercy. We know these parables well, three in particular: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the father with two sons (cf. Luke 15:1-32). In these parables, God is always presented as full of joy, especially when he pardons. In them we find the core of the Gospel and of our faith, because mercy is presented as a force that overcomes everything, filling the heart with love and bringing consolation through pardon” (Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, 9).
Today is Laetare Sunday or “rejoice Sunday”. Lent is half over. How has this season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving been for you so far? Let us continue on the road to conversion of heart praying for one another especially our Elect and those candidates who are preparing for Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist that will be celebrated at the Easter Vigil, April 20. May God bless you and keep you always in His Love!
Joyfully in the Lord,
Rev. Msgr. Edward J. Arnister
Pastor, St. Rose Parish