Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

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Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

Rita Killackey, OSB | March 26, 2022

If you are like me, when you hear Jesus tell a story, you often have a lot of questions. In today’s Gospel, basically all we know of this son is that he asks for his inheritance at a young age, spends it unwisely to the point of bankruptcy, and finally figures that his only recourse is to return to his father in shame after squandering the money.

What kind of father would let his son leave home with that kind of money? Had the son already contributed his share of the work to maintain and enrich the family property? Did the father trust his son’s judgment? Had the young man already shown good money management skills? Did he have a reasonable plan of action for being on his own? Was he aware of the temptations and frustrations of living outside his comfort zone? Did the father even consider how the departure of this son would affect the family dynamic? Or, of how his other, older son would be affected by this move?

And how about this son? What made him want to leave home? Was he unhappy, unsatisfied or just restless? Did he, at his young age, feel entitled to his share of the legacy? Did he think of how the maintaining and development of the property would be accomplished without his work?

Obviously, these are 21st century types of questions which don’t apply in this story. The son hits rock bottom — no money, no food, no decent employment, no future prospects — before he realizes that he could be far better off as the lowest ranking of his father’s servants. But, what kind of acceptance or rejection might he anticipate in returning to his former home? What kind of expectations might his father have of him to even allow him to set foot on the property? How would he have to prove his sincerity in coming to his senses and his worthiness to be received back into the family?

Unexpectedly, and almost miraculously, the father’s reaction to seeing his son from a distance was to run to the young man to embrace and kiss him, almost as though he had returned from the dead. It was more like a hero’s welcome, with the father calling for a major celebration for the son’s homecoming. The father recognizes the young man as his own beloved son and shows only unconditional, compassionate love for him. He does not ask any questions nor set any conditions for the son’s complete welcome back to his place in the family. Can you imagine the son’s unexpected relief and overwhelming happiness at being welcomed so lovingly by his father?

This story of the prodigal son has always been held up as an example of God’s unconditional love, shown throughout their lives and in various ways, for all God’s people. This includes even those who, by the world’s standards, are seemingly unworthy of God’s love.

But, there are two sons in this story. One can understand how the older son could be envious and even contemptuous of his younger brother, who supposedly had a self-centered, pleasurable time in a distant land while the older brother toiled at home. And, maybe the older son resented his brother for diminishing the family legacy of what would eventually be left for him to inherit. But this father comes to the older brother to remind him, as in Hosea (chapter 11), that he loved both his sons all their lives, “drew them with human cords, with bands of love…” and fostered them “like one who raises an infant to his cheeks” and always gives his best to his own. This father’s feast is celebrated like any parent’s, giving extra attention to the child most in need at the time, without diminishing the parent’s love for the other children.

Finally, did the older son realize his father’s unconditional love of both his sons? Did he open his heart to his brother and rejoice with the family? And, my last question: did the older son go into the celebration?