The Sunday of the Prodigal Son, or should we say, “The Sunday of the Merciful Father”?
This Sunday, February 17th, is the third Sunday
of our preparation for the Great Fast. Once again, we hear the story of the
Prodigal Son, and the Church will present to us the important theme of REPENTANCE. The Greek word for
repentance is metanoia, which means a change of mind and heart. In essence,
it’s a decision to return home and to embrance the Divine Will and Love of our
There are four key figures in this story. First,
there’s the compassionate and merciful father, a symbol of God Himself. Not
only has he given life to his sons, he has also provided them with everything
that they need. Everything is a gift from him.
The second important figure in the story is the
younger son, who has no respect for his father and lacks any sense of gratitude.
The root of his spirtual illness is pride. In his ignorance and self-centredness,
there is a deep sense of entitlement. “My father owes me… I’m entitled to my
inheritance. It belongs to me, and I’m free to do with it as I wish. My life is
mine, to live as I see fit, and I will decide for myself what is best.” So,
it’s no surprise that he quickly squanders everything that he has after he
leaves home, because he has no respect or appreciation for what he has been
given. Can a sieve hold water? Pride is that “spiritual sieve,” that fails to hold
and preserve any of God’s graces, given to nourish and water the soul.
There is a crucial turning point that takes place in the life of the prodigal son. It’s that special moment of metanoia. The Gospel tells us that “he came to himself,” in other words, “he came to his senses.” The light of truth breaks through his mind and heart. He comes to appreciate the goodness of his father. He realizes that everything belonged to his father, and that everything was freely given to him by his father in love. This is that moment of deep repentance, a radical change of mind and heart, a change in thinking, a discovery and acceptance of truth. He has been humbled. He sees the world now with new eyes. Through humility, he has become “poor of heart,” relinquishing all sense of ownership and feelings of entitlement. Everything has been a gift from his father. He will return home. He will simply serve as a slave and will be grateful for whatever is given to him.
the story or hearing it proclaimed, we are called to identify ourselves with
the prodigal son. We are no different. We all suffer from the spiritual illness
of pride, selfishness. With a sense of entitlement, we often think that “God
owes us,” and we get upset and resentful when things don’t go our way. We go our
way and seek to find happiness elsewhere on our own. What we find instead a
sense of dis-ease, a feeling of
unhappiness and discontent. Eventually, suffering becomes the teacher that
brings us to our knees, and hopefully, that moment of metanoia: I will return to my Father’s house. As pride is
conquered, humility leads us to “poverty of heart,” the realization that
everything belongs to God, and that everything is a gift from Him. God in His
goodness, has freely chosen to share everything with us. “Blessed are the poor
in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Mt 5:3).
important figure in the story is the oldest son, who remains by his father’s
side. Like his brother, he too lacks a sense of gratitude. Pride is also the
root spiritual illness within his heart. He has remained by his father’s side
and has listened to him, but not out of genuine love. In his self-centredness,
there is deep sense of entitlement for his loyalty and service. “My father owes
me… I’m entitled to my inheritance. It belongs to me; I have worked for it and I have earned it.” Like his younger
brother, he has not realized the depth of his father’s goodness; he has not
realized that really, everything belongs to his father, and everything is given
and shared by his father in love. “All that is mine is yours” (Luke 15;31). He
can’t accept the fact that his father is free to distribute his goods as he
wishes and to be generous with whomever he wishes. The older son lacks faith, trust,
true obedience and surrender to his father and his father’s will.
the older son becomes resentful when his father chooses to be merciful and
generous, to forgive the younger son upon his return, and to restore him to his
grace and sonship. In his mind, this was something that needed to be earned.
The older son failed to see the value of important gifts: his brother was a gift,
his return was a gift, repentance is a gift, forgiveness a gift, and that life itself
is a precious gift. “It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your
brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:32).
reading and hearing the story, we are also called to identify ourselves with
the older son. In our service to God, we too can quickly forget that God’s love
is not something to be earned — it’s freely given. Our life and service to Him
should always be a free-gift offered with love and joy, without any expectations
of reward, self-seeking motivations, hidden agendas, and a sense of
entitlement. Like the younger son, we also need to rediscover the importance of faith: believing in
what God promises; trusting in his goodness, providence and care for us; listening
and submitting to His Will (even when we don’t understand); and finally,
surrendering our life to Him as a total free-gift.
fourth and final figure in the story is the male calf, fattened by wheat. The
father’s gift of mercy, forgiveness, atonement, reconciliation, and the offering
of praise and thanksgiving is incomplete without the sacrifice of the fattened
calf and the communion banquet that follows. The sacrifice is a symbol of
Christ, who takes away the sins of the world, and reconciles us with the Father
through his death on the cross. The calf was fed by wheat, which points to the
fact that Christ, the chosen Lamb of God, will become for us the Bread of Life
in the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist.
lesson of the story is that God has loved us first. Everything is gift. He
offers us forgiveness and eternal life with Him. Nothing can be earned, but
only received with faith, humility, repentance, surrender and love.