Opening: The story of the Prodigal Son is probably one of the best known Gospel stories. What thoughts or feelings do you have with that story? With whom do you identify? Are you more the prodigal son or the older brother?
Gospel: Read the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Lent through slowly a couple of times, thinking about these questions.
- What image from the Gospel story stands out for you?
- What verse or verses are important to you? Which ones invite you to further reflection?
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.’”
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Reflection: This Gospel reading weaves together for us the core themes of Lent – sin, remorse, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. It calls us to witness the movement of sin and grace in the young man’s life and the power of forgiveness found in the love of a father. And it invites us to see this same movement in our own lives and to recognize God’s gracious and unconditional love for us. Little wonder it is such a popular and evocative parable.
But what about that older brother? He seems to be missing out on the whole forgiveness and reconciliation experience. He’s angry and for good cause, he thinks. His father is not only letting the younger brother come home after wasting all that money, he is actually throwing a party with feasting and dancing. So the older brother won’t go in to the celebration; he stays off by himself and pouts.
Just as he did with the younger son, the father takes the initiative in reaching out to the older brother, inviting him to come to the festivities. When the older son rebuffs him, his father tries to reason with 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.’ And that’s where the story ends.
What seems clear from the father’s response is that the older son didn’t recognize or appreciate the depth of his father’s love. The son complains because he didn’t get a young calf to celebrate with his friends, when in fact everything the father had is his. The older son underestimated and didn’t fully experience the father’s generosity, and therefore could not be generous toward his younger brother when he returned.
As we think about this parable in light of our relationship with God, we are invited to recognize ways in which we underestimate or fail to recognize God’s gracious presence in our lives. As was the case with both of the sons, God waits for our return and reaches out to us at every opportunity. And like the two sons, we have the choice to engage and accept that invitation to deepen our awareness of God’s love for us. In light of your relationship with God, how do you want the story of the older brother to end?
Lived faith: So, how might reflection on this week’s Gospel reading invite you to examine more intentionally your relationship with God and your confidence in the graciousness of his presence in your life? How can you become more aware of this presence and allow it to permeate the way you respond to others?
Take time during this fourth week of Lent to take time in prayer to express gratitude for God’s unfailing love and generosity towards you.