The Nazareth Page - A gospel meditation for your home
March 31, 2019 – Fourth Sunday of Lent - Luke 15:1-3,11-32
Today’s gospel is easily recalled because it describes a family scene that many will recognize. Maybe some will connect this story directly to their own lives or with the life of a family that they personally know. All one has to do is mention the first lines of this story: “There was a father who had two sons,” and most will know what follows. This remarkable story that Jesus created is known by two titles: “The Prodigal Son” or “The Forgiving Father.” Today we will focus on the father and his attitude about his family, especially his sons. Most see the father in the story as being a “stand-in” for God.
As the story goes, his younger son was a bit of a scoundrel. He took his inheritance even before his father died. He overlooked the possibility that his father might need that money for his old age. But the son didn’t care. He was quite self-centered. After pocketing his dad’s money, he left home and wasted every cent on selfish spending. Not surprisingly, he eventually ran out of money and was in desperate straits. The only option he felt he had was to sneak back home, get a job from his father and work as a hired hand. No one would have blamed the father if he agreed to this new arrangement.
But, as we all know, the father would not take that option. After all, he loved his son (actually both sons) and in seeing his son returning home from a distance, he ran to greet his wayward boy. At that time, listeners to this story would have been doubly shocked by the actions of the father. Fathers didn’t run to their sons. Sons were to do the running. Also given his son’s history, a father’s rejection of his son would bring no surprise. The “bad” son deserved no special treatment from his dad.
Instead the father was compassionate, forgiving and arranged for a party to celebrate the return of his son. We can assume that everyone was surprised at this response, and some, the older son for sure, were even angry with the father. He was violating about a hundred accepted norms for proper parental behavior given the circumstances.
Some might have said that the father was simply “crazy.” Of course, they would not have taken into consideration one important detail. The father loved his son and that made all the difference. Now, connect this story with your idea of God. Can you imagine God running to you, even after you had made a mess of things? Would God do such a thing? According to the teaching of Jesus, God would! In fact, God does. Time after time. Without any hesitation. A firm belief in God’s personal compassionate and forgiving love for all of us is at the center of our Christian faith.
©David M. Thomas, PhD