"My son," replied the father, "You are with me always and everything
I have is yours, but we had to celebrate and rejoice. This brother of yours
was dead and has come back to life. He was lost and is found."
My friends a few minutes ago you and I heard one of the most famous
parables in all of the New Testament. It is not only one of the most beautiful
stories that Jesus ever told. It is also recognized as one of the most
beautiful stories in all of human literature. The story is so succinct,
and yet it is fraught with nuances. As you hear it each year in the Church's
liturgy or if you read it at home in your own Bible, there is always something
new and fresh about it.
I'd like to share some things with you this morning. Some of it is old
and some of it, I pray God, is a bit new for you. There are three individuals
in this story. We can say a few words about each one of them but particularly
about the third one. We want to concentrate on him because he is the centerpiece
of the story.
First of all is that prodigal younger son. He had no claim to his share
of the inheritance; not until after his father died. But he evidently made
such a fuss that the father capitulated to his demands. He divided his
property in shares: two-thirds to the older brother and one-third to the
younger, according to the Law as outlined in the twenty-second chapter
of the Book of Deuteronomy. The younger son could now go off and seek his
fortune and adventure. We know what happened to him. He went off to a far
country and blew it all and got so hungry that eventually he was reduced
to feeding pigs. Jesus' Jewish listeners would have really understood that.
How low could a person get than to feed swine? Then he made a hundred and
eighty degree turn and he came back to his father.
We have a story of sin and conversion. Essentially conversion, at its
root, means to turn back, to return. The Prodigal was converted. And he
was humbled. He came back home to seek and receive his father's forgiveness.
Imagine the father, if you will, each day hoping that this son that
he hasn't heard from for so long might return. Perhaps he would occasionally
go up on the flat roof of his house and scan the horizon, hoping against
hope. Perhaps he would walk up to a hill and look as far as he could see
and wonder, "Where is my son? Is he living or dead?" One day he spied his
son a long way off, but like a good father he knew his son - perhaps the
way he walked. The son, in tatters, trudged along the road barefoot, dirty,
smelling of those swine, approaches his father. His father can't wait.
He runs out and meets him on the road, grabs him and hugs and kisses him.
The young man begins his confession to his father, "Father, I have sinned
against heaven and against you." That's about all he can get out, before
his father interrupts him. He will hear no more of it. He's already forgiven
him. He calls to the servants to dress him with a fine robe, put shoes
on him, and a ring on his finger, kill the fatted calf, and celebrate.
He wasn't dead after all; he was alive!
What a beautiful story! Jesus could have ended it there. But Jesus said,
"Wait, there's more." As the celebration is going on, we turn our attention
to that older son. (That poor father really had a problem with his kids.)
The older son hears all the noise and the music and the dancing and celebration.
"What's this about?" The overjoyed servants tell him. He's so angry he
won't even go into the celebration. His father has to come out and beg
him to come in, beg him to be reconciled with his brother. And he won't
do it. He will have none of it.
Notice in the story that he doesn't even call his father, "Father,"
at this point. It's as though he's lost respect for his father for being
so weak as to take back this youngest son. And certainly he won't call
this brother, his brother. It's "that son of yours." The story is left
open-ended. Did he go back in? We don't know. He may have. We would hope
so. The family lived happily ever after. Perhaps he didn't. Wouldn't that
have been a worse sin than what the prodigal had committed? There is nothing
worse than brother against brother; nothing more bloody than civil war.
Do you identify with the prodigal son? Perhaps. Perhaps you can say,
"There was a time that I was so far from God, so miserable and so unhappy
until I came to my senses and said, "I can't live like this any more in
this sinful way." You turned back to God to ask His forgiveness. And you
received it generously as the prodigal did.
Maybe you're like that elder son. "I can't understand," we might say,
"how God can be so merciful and so generous. After all, look what this
man has done." You and I can find it so hard to forgive mistakes in others,
like that eldest son. And yet, God, our Father, is as generous in His love
to each one of us as He is to the one who needs that great conversion.
There is a little bit of the Prodigal in us. There's a little bit of the
elder son. But I would think Jesus really wants us to be imitators of that
father who received the son back.
Think of his option. That father who would think day after day, "I gave
away my life savings, my fortune, to this kid and I don't even know where
he is. And here he is, back again." He could react in a variety of ways.
How about stony silence? "I'm not going to say a word to him. I'll let
him twist slowly in the wind. He'll remember what he did." Or, how about
this: He comes home and the father gives his son The Lecture which will
include, "I told you so." If you are a father, you have given your children
The Lecture, "I told you so."
But he didn't give him a lecture. He received him back, no questions
asked. Strange indeed! Or he could have said, "All right, you're back.
You can sleep out with the hired hands and we'll put you to work and we'll
give you some jobs to do around here and we'll see how it goes. I'll receive
you back half way." After all, that's all the son really expected his father
to do for him. "Treat me as one of your hired hands." He never got that
option out to his father, but that's what he was thinking and rehearsing
as he trudged along the road.
No, the father just embraced him. This is a crazy father. This is not
the kind of father that you would expect. But that's precisely the point
that Jesus wants to make. This is the way of your heavenly Father. Remember
that Jesus came into the world to reveal the Father to us. He said, "He
who sees me, sees the Father also". If you understand me," says Jesus,
"you'll understand your Father." Jesus was so quick to forgive. So is our
Father. But it's one of the most difficult things that you and I ever do.
St. Paul understood this. In his misguided zeal, he persecuted the Church
of Christ before his conversion. Later, Paul understood who he was, and
who we Christians ought to be. This is what Paul writes in his Second Letter
to the Corinthians:
". . .If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. All this has been
done by God the Father, who has reconciled us to himself, through Christ,
and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. "All this has been done
by God who has reconciled us to Himself, through Christ, and has given
us the ministry of reconciliation. This makes us ambassadors for Christ.
God, as it were, appealing through us" (2 Cor.5:17-20).
The "us" Paul writes about is you and I: he is writing about the Church.
If we want to define what the Church is, what would we say? When Jesus
came into the world, He came here for one purpose, didn't He? To reconcile
mankind to the Father. That ministry of reconciliation is the work of the
Church. When He gathered the Church together on the night of His resurrection,
the whole Church was in the upper room, wasn't it? And what was it that
He said to them as He breathed on them? "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose
sins you forgive, they are forgiven." This was the work of the Church.
This is the work of all of us. This is the message of reconciliation. We
are ambassadors of reconciliation within the parish, within the community,
within the family.
We can behave in a variety of ways. We can act like that elder brother.
We can act like many typical fathers might do with the silent treatment
or The Lecture. Or we can be as this uncommon father was in the parable
of the prodigal: one who forgives completely and totally; one who seeks
reconciliation with others. These choices are ours to make. Pray God we
make the right choice. Today this is what we offer to God our Father in
this Eucharist: through, with, and in Christ our Lord, may each of us be
ministers of reconciliation.
Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation.
If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please
credit St. Dunstanís Church and Fr. Sisterman.