Saturday of the 2nd Week of Lent
Micah 7:14-15; 18-20/Lk 15:1-3,11-32
The dramatic and amazing story of the Prodigal son is full of images with regard to reconciliation, images of the Father, the dispositions of the two sons, the nature of Father’s house, and the role of the servant. Jesus brings these meaningful images to his disciples and to all of us so that we may know more about the Father and the Kingdom where we ultimately belong.
Three Images of the Story
1. The Two Sons
Jesus carefully described the dispositions of the two sons. The younger one came to the father and sought for his inheritance, went “squandering of all his property in a loose and empty life, the dark days of exile and hunger, but even more of lost dignity, humiliation and shame and then nostalgia for his own home.” (RP 5) It is an image of a painful experience to be away from home where everything was there and the incomparable blessing of being with the father was lost. The home should be the place of security and haven of joy. While the elder son was in the fields tending the flock, “refuses to take his place at the banquet. He rebukes his younger brother for his dissolute wanderings, and he rebukes his father for the welcome given to the prodigal son while he himself, a temperate and hard-working person, faithful to father and home, has never been allowed-he says to have a celebration with his friends. This is a sign that he does not understand the father’s goodness. To the extent that this brother, too sure of himself and his own good qualities, jealous and haughty, full of bitterness and anger, is not converted and is not reconciled with his father and brother, the banquet is not yet fully the celebration of a reunion and rediscovery.” (RP 6) There is one thing in common between the two brothers or the two sons: they stayed away from the father, the home, and the banquet.
2. The Father
With the two sons away from the father, the story relates to us that the father never forgets his sinful sons. The father “had kept unchanged his affection and esteem for him” (RP 5). True love never changes, it promises eternity and infinity. The father possesses that love which describes his nature and the love he has. By not forgetting his sons and never changes his love are gestures of a deep loving and forgiving heart. The younger son who felt that deep anxiety for conversion and reconciliation with the father, represents those sinners who desire to bring themselves back to the arms of the Father and the innermost forgiveness of God that wipes out even the most horrible sins committed in life. They younger son represents those who believe that reconciliation is possible and those whose minds and hearts dictate now the clarity of the nature of God’s mercy. The younger son symbolizes also the awareness of an innermost yearning and a deep longing for merciful Father who forgets the sin and never forgets his sons and daughters. The elder son, however, symbolic of those who need conversion as the first step to be reconciled have to experience a clear image of the Father before everything falls in order. “Selfishness makes him jealous, hardens his heart, blinds him and shuts him off from other people and from God. The loving kindness and mercy of the father irritate and enrage him; for him the happiness of the brother who has been found again has a bitter taste.” No reconciliation will ever happen if one does not recognize a loving and merciful father, and a brother who repents and comes back home. In the words of the elder son: “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” Never had the elder son treated the man as his father, and the other son as his brother. True reconciliation requires clear images of the father as well as the son.
3. The servant
The role of the servant is significant in the story of the Prodigal Son though not obvious and noticeable. When the elder son was approaching the house, he heard the music and the dancing. He called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. He replied by saying “your brother has come back home, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.” Note the beauty and the moving statement of the servant. These statements: “your brother” and “your father” indicate the opposite of elder son’s loss of respect and honor to both father and brother. Earlier he never acknowledged the man as his father and the son as his brother; it was the servant who became the instrument of such reconciliation waking him up and teaching him the way to right relationships. The servant was a witness of the mercy of the father, and thus taught the elder brother to do the same. Pope Francis reminded us that we show mercy because we experienced God’s mercy. “The mercy of God is his loving concern for each one of us. He feels responsible; that is, he desires our wellbeing and he wants to see us happy, full of joy, and peaceful. This is the path which the merciful love of Christians must also travel. As the Father loves, so do his children. Just as he is merciful, so we are called to be merciful to each other.” (Misercordiae Vultus 9)
Saturday of the 3rd Week of Lent
(Hos 6:1-6; Lk 18:9-14)
A story was told about Jimmy who had trouble pronouncing the letter “R” so his teacher gave him a sentence to practice at home: “Robert gave Richard a rap in the rib for roasting the rabbit so rare.” Some days later the teacher asked him to say the sentence for her. Jimmy rattled it off like this: “Bob gave Dick a poke in the side for not cooking the bunny enough.” He had evaded the letter “R.” (taken from Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Sermon Illustrations by Robert J. Morgan, p. 663). Not only people have the difficulties in pronouncing the letter “R” but there Christians avoiding the “R” which stands for repentance. The Lenten season reminds us about the repentance as the renewed path to Christ. Repentance is not a single and unrepeated act but it has to be rediscovered and renewed often. The readings today speak of the different aspects that lead toward true repentance.
1. Repentance is at the basis of Reconciliation- Reconciliation demands the detachment of oneself from sin and this detachment includes repentance from one’s sin. No reconciliation will ever happen without the sense of repentance on the part of the sinner. It is staying on the path towards the Father. John Paul II says reconciliation “presupposes and includes, therefore, doing penance in the fullest sense of the term: repenting, showing this repentance, adopting a real attitude of repentance- which is the attitude of the person who starts out on the road of return to the Father.” (RP 13) Hosea, in the first reading uses the word “return to the Lord” as the initial step towards reconciliation with God. The prophet was a younger contemporary of Amos yet they share a common passion for the commandments of the covenant. The prophet preaches the same message of judgment that Amos uttered, listing the violations of justice and the oppression of the poor, pointing to the broken commandments and calling for a return to covenant fidelity and obedience to God.
2. Repentance is knowing the God of Mercy- Returning to the Lord entails the desire to know God more. A genuine knowledge of God eventually leads one to the Sinai covenant or recalling the goodness of the Lord. It is in gratitude that one begins to repent of sins and shortcomings. Hosea really hopes that the Israel will return to the Sinai covenant, and he uses many images taken from the desert wanderings to recall people’s memory to Yahweh. He uses the language of the law case and the courtroom to demand that Israel live up to its legal duty in the covenant. Then, recognizing these images a new life comes from God and they live like a place with abundant rain and a dawn of a new day. He said “Let us know, let us strive to know the LORD; as certain as the dawn is his coming, and his judgment shines forth like the light of day.”
3. Repentance is healing- Healing is a gift resulting from repentance. The prophet Hosea uses four words of healing: a) bind our wounds, b) revive us, c) raise us up, and d) live in his presence. The Gospel uses the word “justified.” The publican could not even raise his eyes to heaven as he was in the Temple to pray, but instead beat his breast and said “O Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Jesus pronounced “I tell you, the latter went home justified.” Jesus’ description of the Publican’s status is a consoling word of healing. Healing would not come to us if we do not address the very root of inner pain which is sin. Sin is at the bottom of all source of suffering that evokes a call for repentance as a gateway toward new life. John Paul II says “people cannot come to true and genuine repentance until they realize that sin is contrary to the ethical norm written in their in most being.” (RP 31)