September 15, 2019 by
David Jackson in
Reflections on Sunday Gospels
24 C and Lent 4 C
Lost and found, the tale of our lives.
Introduction: Today’s Gospel story is the focus of this Sunday. It is a story about a family. It appears to be a single-parent family (the mother is not mentioned). It is difficult to know how long a time span it took for this story to take place. It is a familiar story that we wish to hear newly. The three main persons in the story are the father and his two sons. We might listen to the story to understand which of the three we most identify with.
Homily: (In the past I have used this Gospel for a dialogue homily: asking questions. Thus it’s form.)
What problems did you hear in this family’s story?
What difficulties does the young son have? (He’s a black sheep. He disobeys his father. He breaks his father’s heart. Some even say that to want his share of the inheritance is equivalent to wishing his father dead. ) . Do you think the father would have been angry with him? It was at this point that it would have been the older son’s duty to object or mediate. He doesn’t fulfill this obligation. What happens to the younger son once he leaves? (Wastes his money, loses it all. Has to take on work taking care of pigs (unclean animals for the Jews, didn’t eat pork, against their religion). He is hungry. Famine. Would even like to eat the food of the pigs. )) What brings about a change in him? (Being hungry. Thoughts of his father. Thoughts of the servants in his father’s house that have plenty of food.) What does he do? (Confession of sin: I have sinned against God and against you, I no longer deserve to be called your son, treat me as one of the hired servants.) He “breaks away” and heads back.
On his arrival. What is the Father’s response? What other kinds of responses might the Father have given? I remember that some years back a Spring Breaker was involved in an auto accident. His parents came to make sure that their name was not listed as the responsible person. They also learned that the boy had given his grandmother’s name when injured. They wished to remove her name as well. His lifestyle had led to them totally disowning him. This father is not like that. Jesus contradicts their expectations. What are the signs of the father’s forgiveness? (ring (symbol of authority), new clothes (honored guest), sandals (freeman, not slave), even more, important embrace and kiss on the neck, rejoicing, kill fatted calf (gesture of reconciliation with the villagers), music and dancing.)
What difficulties does the older son have? (Jealousy, anger. He had lived his whole life doing what the father expected, being faithful.) He too is lost, but in an entirely different way than his brother. What is his attitude? Had he done his duty with a good spirit do you think? (His own words condemn him: “all these many years I have ‘slaved’ for you. ) Here we have an example of those people who live life with the grind it out attitude of lifeless obedience. There is nothing of the joy and happiness or freedom which characterizes the faithful son or daughter. He has a problem with his brother. Notice how he changes the facts. He disassociates himself from his brother. He doesn’t say, “my brother”. He says, “but ‘your son.’” My father used to call me his son when I was good, but to my mother “your son” did such and such¼when I did something I should not have done. There is something of family dynamics here. The older son accuses his brother falsely. The storyteller told us that he squandered his money on dissolute living. The elder sons says, “having gone through your property with loose women.” The contrast in Spanish is even better. Between una vida disordenada, and y con prostitutas. The older son is clearly resentful (resentimiento) of his brother. He has slaved under obedience to his father. He becomes angry with his brother and his father. And what is his father’s response to him? “Well, if that’s the way you are going to act, to hell with you.” That isn’t just another translation, that’s a totally different response than what the father actually does do. The father goes out, he invites him into a festival celebrating the dead brother now restored to life. Does the older son go in?
We can perhaps identify with parts of this story. I personally identify with the younger son, but I also identify with the older son. We are to find ourselves in the father too. We all live in families. We all have problems, with brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, brother-in-laws, sister-in-laws, uncles, aunts, mother-in-laws, father-in-laws, etc. Do we also have the experience of being reconcilers? Are we like the father? This is the challenge of the story for us. We are forgiven: thanks be to God. But we are to be reconcilers like the Father. God help us.