|24th Sunday in Ordinary time, 11 Sep 2016|
From the Dean’s Desk
Today’s liturgy presents to us an entire chapter of Luke’s Gospel [15:1-32]. In its entirety this chapter gives us three parables concerning the mercy of God: all three centering on the joy of having found something or someone who was lost - the lost sheep [vv 4-7], the lost coin [vv8-10] and the lost son [11-32]. One overwhelming characteristic of these three parables is the extraordinary (or perhaps extravagant) joy and celebration that occurs when the object or person is found. As with all parables we need to appreciate the reason for Jesus’ telling of these stories and ask ourselves which of the characters in the parables we associate with best.
In considering the reason for the parables, we need to go no further than the beginning of this chapter. Luke tells us that the tax collectors and sinners were seeking the company of Jesus in order to listen to what he was saying. While this is happening the Pharisees and scribes were complaining that he welcomes such people into his presence (vv1-3). The point that Jesus wishes to make with these parables is simply the extravagant joy that God has in welcoming back sinners. As we immerse ourselves in these parables we notice the ‘prodigal’ or lavish and even wasteful love that the characters exhibit in their joy, especially the father in the parable of the lost son. The term ‘prodigal’ can be attributed also to the younger son, as we encounter him being wasteful of his father’s love and property in the manner in which he abuses both. The father’s response to the return of his ‘wasteful’ son would have shocked Jesus’ audience, for he comes across as being too lavish and forgiving of the young son. He places no consequences or conditions on the wasteful behaviour of the younger son on his return. He simply orders the servants to prepare a feast for the son and he reinstates him to his original position as son, by placing the ring on his finger. When we consider the reason for Jesus telling this parable – and all three parables for that matter – it centres on the joy that is celebrated by the one who had lost something and then found it.
In this parable Jesus is not so much concerned about the two sons. He wishes the listener to take to heart the actions of the father. For Jesus the two sons simply present the two responses to life that we can give: self-centredness (as seen in the actions of the younger son and perhaps representing the tax collectors and sinners in their movement away from God but who are open to reconciliation and an awareness of their misdeed) and self-righteousness (as can be seen in the stubbornness and anger of the older son, representing the religious figures who refuse to acknowledge conversion of the tax collectors and sinners). To both sons the father is lavish in his love. We are well aware of the extent of the father’s love for his younger son. He deals with him in a super-human –divine- manner: he shows no conditions to his love apart from the realisation of younger son that he had sinned: ‘Father I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants’ (v.18). It is significant that when welcomed by the father, the son does not get a chance to utter the last part of the statement, which would have been a reasonable action for the father to take. The father then goes out to ‘welcome’ (or plead with) the older son who in his anger refuses to join in the festivities. The brother even goes to the extent of dissociating himself from the younger son by referring to him as ‘this son of yours’ (v.30). But the father would have none of that, as in pleading with the son he refers to the recently returned son as ‘your brother...who died and has come back to life’ (v.32).
These parables – especially that of the lost son – were intended to shock the audience of Jesus, many of whom would have sided with the attitude of the older son in his anger and discomfort not only of the return of his younger brother, but also of the treatment lavished on him by his father. Truly a great and challenging story in the areas of wrong-doing, penance, reconciliation, forgiveness, anger and ultimately, God’s lavish love for us. As we consider the limitless love and mercy of God through these parables, we can ask ourselves to whom do we best associate with: either of the two sons or the father, in our need to either show mercy and forgiveness or to be the recipient of mercy and forgiveness.
Fr Robert Bossini,