The Prodigal Son and the Forgiving Father

Today, the fourth Sunday in Lent is known by some as Laetare Sunday, which in Latin means Rejoice. The word comes from the traditional mass introit,

“Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult, and be filled from the breasts of your consolation.”

It is also known as Mothering Sunday in the UK, not to be mistaken for Mother’s Day, that wonderful Hallmark Holiday that we all know and love.

In the sixteenth century a tradition developed for Christians to return to their Mother church, where they were baptized, along with their own mothers and other family members.

Children would pick flowers along the way and give them to their mothers. The traditional liturgical color of the day is Rose, a color which is created when you add some of the festive color of White to the Penitent color of Purple.

In the UK, this day has become a day to honor all mothers, grandmothers, and all mother figures. St. Paul commends us to recognize all women older that ourselves as mothers. And so to all our mothers, Happy Mothering Day!

We can also honor the Mother of our Lord Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, on this day. As Jesus told St. John, there is our mother.

There is much rejoicing in our lessons from Holy Scripture today. Our selection from the Old Testament from the Book of Joshua tells of the event when the chosen people of God crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land. No more did they have to rely on the manna, but were to consume the produce of the land.

Psalm 34:1 proclaims: I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall ever be in my mouth.”

St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians continues the theme, clearly rejoicing over the promise of Jesus to make all things new. Indeed the Lord has entrusted us with his message of reconciliation.

“If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation, everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” This is what happens when we are baptized.

The parable of the Prodigal Son proclaims this message, as well as the rejoicing shown by the father on learning that is son is alive. Prodigal means free-spending, lavishing, practically throwing away. The young son was prodigal with his inheritance, not knowing what what his legacy.

The father was prodigal with his rejoicing, giving his son the robe and the ring, the symbols of his authority as true owner of the land. Jesus said there is joy In the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

The older brother doesn’t even appreciate the fact that the father has already given him everything. He is already the sole owner of the estate, as his father is only managing his son’s inheritance. He wants even what has been given to his brother. He will never be satisfied.

A possible interpretation of this parable is Jesus’ message to the Pharisees. Chapter 15 of St. Luke’s Gospel starts with this sentence:  “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

In response, Jesus told three parables: The first one is of the shepherd who leaves the flock on their own to search for the one lost sheep.

The second is of the woman with 10 silver coins, who loses one, and after a long search finds it.

The third is this one we heard today, of the lost son who is now found. In each of these parables there is great rejoicing by the one who has found what was lost.

Have you ever thought about with whom you identify in this story? Many of us might identify with the prodigal son. Sometimes I think my story is a lot like his. Others may identify more with the older brother, who stayed at home and worked his entire life on the farm.

The sad thing about him is that he never appreciated his actual position in the hierarchy. He thought he was working for his father, like a slave, never disobeying his father’s orders.

In fact his father was working for him! As the heir, the son was the true owner of the land, and his father was doing everything to ensure that his son would inherit the best possible operation. “All that is mine is yours,” his father said, reinforcing the fact that he is the benefactor.

Then the wayward son comes home and he is treated like the honored guest, while the faithful son is jealous. This shows his lack of gratitude towards his father. How easy it is for us to take for granted what we have, and to fail to be thankful for it.

Perhaps you can identify with the father of this story. Have you ever lost something terribly precious to you, then found it again? Think of a parent who’s child has cancer, and after a terrible prognosis, suddenly finds that the child has been healed. Think of the utter joy of that parent. The rejoicing in that household would rival the biggest party ever thrown.

I think the point of these parables also is to demonstrate to the Pharisees that they were behaving like the older brother, for they took all that they had for granted, and didn’t think sinners had any share in the kingdom of God.

And yet our heavenly Father is overjoyed when one of the least of these sinners is found. Jesus attracted the tax collectors and sinners to give them the good news of salvation in His Name.

He did not prejudge these sinners based on their past deeds. He offered them the chance for a fresh start, a clean slate, complete forgiveness of their sins against God. When they took the opportunity and accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, the rejoicing in heaven was off the charts.

And when any of us do the same, the rejoicing continues. And how about the lost sheep in our community? Would God rejoice if they were found? Of course!

So who is looking for them? When Jesus ascended to the Father, who did he leave behind to search out the lost? To whom did he give the Great Commission, that is to go into the world and baptize in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?

First it was given to the Apostles, then to you and me. It is we who are entrusted with the Good News of Salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ. It is our duty to share it with the lost, the hurting, and the dying of this world.

We are the ambassadors of Christ, the manifestation of his love. We are to love others even as we are loved by the Father.

And when one of the lost becomes the found, we share in the “joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Amen.

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