Sunday, March 10, 2013

Homily - 4th Sunday of Lent - Prodigal Son's Mother

Joshua 5:9a, 10-12
2 Corinthians 5:17-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32


I have a favorite Catholic writer who gets to the heart of the matter with the story of the Prodigal Son. 

Author Henri Nouwen writes,

“We often confuse unconditional love with unconditional approval.  God loves us without conditions but does not approve of every human behavior.  

God doesn't approve of betrayal, violence, hatred, suspicion, and all other expressions of evil, because they all contradict the love God wants to instill in the human heart.  

Evil is the absence of God's love.  Evil does not belong to God.

God's unconditional love means that God continues to love us even when we say or think evil things.  God continues to wait for us as a loving parent waits for the return of a lost child.”

Kind of says it all. 

So, what’s Jesus really teaching us here today with this memorable story?

We are never far from God’s love, no matter how much we mess up our lives.

Through our Catholic Catechism we are told, “Christ’s parable of the prodigal son illustrates the sublime meaning of his earthly ministry, which is to forgive sins, reconcile people to God, and lead us in true happiness.”

The forgiveness Jesus wants us to experience is as easy as stepping into the confessional and unburdening ourselves through the sacrament of reconciliation. 

But Jesus also wants us to find reconciliation with each other and Jesus wants us to find reconciliation with ourselves.  Because forgiving others for the hurt they’ve caused us or forgiving ourselves for bad things we’ve done in our past can be the hardest and longest journeys.

As we heard in the first reading from Joshua – who was the successor to Moses – the Israelites finally make it to the Promised Land after 40 long years, free at last after their difficult journey out of bondage.

Jesus is reminding us all our sins – the shackles of our own personally slavery to sin – are forgiven if we just ask. 

But as is always the case with Sacred Scripture, there are many more lessons to learn from Jesus about judgment, forgiveness and true reconciliation.

As Jesus subtlety points out to the Pharisees and scribes, it’s not their job to Judge.  It’s God’s job.  He then reminds them God is all-forgiving.  I’m sure that concept blew their “elder brother” minds.

While in formation, one teacher had us do an intriguing assignment.  She wanted us to give voice to the mother in the Prodigal Son story in Luke’s Gospel.

Some scholars say that the father in the story is representative of God.  For the purpose of my creative writing folly, I purposely chose to have the mother be representative of Jesus Christ. 

It is my great hope the story may help us all to better hear today’s Gospel message.  
Perhaps there’s someone in our lives we need to forgive or to ask for their forgiveness.  

As we take in Christ during today’s Eucharistic celebration, I pray we all feel Jesus’ presence and seek reconciliation with these people in our lives. 

The imagined conversation I wrote is best read as a postscript to the Gospel story we just heard. 

Here is my story of the Mother of the Prodigal Son. 


Then Jesus looked directly at the Pharisees and scribes and said; “Now the mother was watching all these things. Her heart ached when her youngest left home with his inheritance.

She told him, ‘Son, you will always be welcome back in this home. My love for you is great and I wish blessings upon your journey. Peace be with you.’

Her older son overheard the conversation and chastised his mother for telling his younger brother he can return whenever he wishes.
‘Father would never welcome him back in this house again.’

But the mother said, ‘loyal son of mine, I love your devotion. But harden not your heart toward your brother.  For he is lost and needs to find his way home again.  Forgive him. Love him. And pray he returns someday.’

But he stormed away in anger.

The father heard what the mother said to the older son and approached her.

They gave a knowing look to one another and both heaved a heavy sigh.
For how long would it be until the younger son returned?  Would he ever come home or would they never hear from him again?  The pain of not knowing was almost unbearable, but life goes on.

After years and years of worry, the mother had tears in her eyes as she saw her husband run off to greet the figure growing on the distant horizon.
For her heart knew her youngest child had returned home for good. The family was restored. Her heart rang out with unbridled joy.

She was the first to tend with loving care to her son’s painful blisters on his feet and give him water from the small jug she carried hurriedly out to him.

‘Blessed be the Lord, for He has returned our son home to us,’ she cried as she served him.

‘Forgive me, mother,’ he said in a quiet whisper. ‘You are forgiven, my son.’

Later as she was preparing the fattened calf for supper, her older son came to her in the kitchen to grumble about his conversation with his father.

‘Is this house mad? Father is acting like a man possessed. Mother, it is not fair that my brother be treated like royalty after squandering all Father gave him on a life of debauchery. I will not stand for this!’

His mother said in reply, ‘My love for you is no different than my love for your brother. He has asked for our forgiveness.   He has been forgiven.

Remember son; this is the home of your mother and father. It is not your home yet. But I do love your passion and your desire to do what is right.

You should tell your brother how you feel, but do so with love and compassion and don’t be self-righteous.

I pray you will find it in your heart to forgive him.  For he loves you very much and it is your example of being a faithful son he will follow from now on.  So, be a good and loving example as your father and I have set for you both.’

Once again, his mother had offered wisdom that he would wrestle with for days before finally talking to his brother and reconciling their relationship.” 


God so loves us.  No matter how much we screw up He’s always waiting for us to return home.

It’s difficult for us to wrap our heads around an unending reservoir of love and forgiveness God provides for our spiritual well-being. 

And God does not want us to judge others, but use our energies to serve Him better. 

The Catholic Catechism teaches us, “we must always entrust the judgment of a person to the mercy and justice of God.  This is because one person cannot know the extent of another individual’s knowledge and freedom, which are integral factors determining when an occasion for mortal sin becomes an actual sin for which we are morally responsible.”

It’s so easy to look at our world today and think we “see” an abundance of sinfulness.  But Christ looked at the troubled world of His day and offered an abundance of love and forgiveness.

For it, he was crucified and many who called for his execution were people who considered themselves faith-filled people.

If Christ appeared before us today and showed such radical love and forgiveness, would we be cool with it?  Or would we condemn him?

As we ponder these questions, I have one final question: who in our lives do we need to forgive or ask for their forgiveness?
My prayer is that we will act upon this powerful Gospel message and let Jesus Christ heal that relationship.

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