Fourth Sunday in Lent

March 31, 2019 | Sister Michaela Randolf, OSB

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

We have just heard one of the most beautiful and well-known parables in the Bible. It appears only once and is described by some, as perhaps the crown and flower of all the parables. It is the story of two lost sons who like most of us have behaved as they did, in one way or the other. It is also the story of one of the most compassionate Fathers you will ever read about in the bible. Indeed, the Father is central to the story.

It was Jesus who told this parable and we know it as the Prodigal Son but many writers have suggested it might more truly be called, the Parable of the Prodigal Father or The Parable of Extravagant Love. The definition of Prodigal itself, in fact, means extravagant, lavish, unrestrained and even wasteful.

And so let us attend to the Father, listen to his words and feel his heart break, both in his silent waiting and in his eloquent speech. He throws himself into the prodigal land of extravagance and unrestrained love for his sons. His love knew no limits, his forgiveness no boundaries, his joy no restraint.

He disregards the offenses of both sons and shows himself disinterested in the immorality of his younger son and in the offensive self-righteousness that is the preoccupation of his elder son.

Some commentators assert that fathers in that culture were remote figures of authority, and so see the father’s running to welcome his wayward son as not only surprising but also shocking, for gentlemen of honor do not run except in cases of emergency. The father is playing a role no proper patriarch would enact. He has left his community standing, his honor and position behind. This reminds me of a short story told by a Rabbi. “A king had a son who had gone astray from his father on a journey of one hundred days. His friends said to him. “Return to your Father.” He said, “I cannot.” And so his father sent word saying, “Return as far as you can and I will come the rest of the way to you”.

This God of Abundance, Compassion and Love is Jesus’ Abba. And this Abba’s greatest delight is to draw us into the mystery of that abundance, compassion and love.

I’d like to tell you another story about abundant love.

Once upon time, there was a very pious Jewish couple who had a little boy, named Mordecai. He grew in wisdom and grace and in time he was ready to go to the synagogue to learn the Word of God. His parents stressed how important this is and he listened wide-eyed.

But somehow he never made it to the Synagogue, always ending up playing in the woods. His parents were beside themselves. They called in the behavior modificationists who modified Mordecai’s behavior. Nevertheless, Mordecai found himself again in the woods swimming in the lake and climbing the trees. So his parents called in the psychoanalysts, who unblocked his behavior. Nevertheless, the next day Mordecai was swimming in the lake and climbing the trees. At this time a great Rabbi came to visit the village and the parents thought they would take Mordecai to see him. There in the hall, they saw a great lion of a man and they wondered if they had acted wisely. The Rabbi beckoned Mordecai. “Boy, come here.” Trembling, Mordecai went and the great rabbi picked him up and held him silently against his heart. From that day on, Mordecai went to the synagogue and then went swimming in the lake and climbing the trees. And the Word of God became one with the water and the trees. When Mordecai grew up, many people came to him and with him they found peace. People came to him who were very lonely and because of him they found community. People came to him with no exits to their pain and with him, they found a way out. And he always said, “I first learned the Word of God when the great Rabbi held me silently against his heart.”

It is God who initiates our relationships and it is God who continues them by holding us close to the divine heart in a prolonged embrace. We learn, as did Mordecai, that the Word of God is alive, that when melting into God’s heart, all reality melts together. As we are being held silently against God’s heart, may we continue to learn as did Mordecai.

God pursues us. God’s restless heart will not rest until we respond to this tremendous love. We hear God’s longing in Hosea, “I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart”.

As we continue to move together toward the Easter mystery, holding one another in love, let us live in this extravagant, lavish, unrestrained love of God and may we experience the compassion, abundance and love of our Prodigal Father.

Sr. Micaela Randolph