Today, the fourth Sunday of Lent, the Gospel of Luke presents us with the famous passage of the prodigal son. While we often pay most attention to the behaviour of the younger son, we would try to focus on the attitude of the elder son.
Similar to many of the Jewish leaders, he only viewed his rewards as a direct consequence for work. He could not comprehend that he could bring nothing to the plan of salvation and even if he tried to earn it, he did not understand how God saves and that it is only the righteousness of Jesus that can make him worthy of salvation.
Sacred scripture makes it abundantly clear that no human works, even when they are good, can ever earn salvation. In Luke 15:31–32, it states that although the father provided the elder son with an apt reason for his happiness, the latter did not accept it. His focus was only on himself and hence he could not experience the joy in the return of his only brother.
The father, who represents the Heavenly Father, tried, at length, to properly explain to the elder son that his love for both sons is not dependent upon their achieving perfection but on their willingness to return to him with a humble heart and a contrite spirit.
The elder son was so consumed with his personal issues of justice and equity that he failed to see the value and significance in the true repentance and return of his younger brother.
He did not heed the words of 1 John 2:9–11, who states that: “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him”.
The elder son allowed anger to take root in his heart to such extent that he was reluctant to demonstrate compassion and love towards his only brother. He preferred to allow his rage to fester rather than enjoy true fellowship with his father, brother and the wider community. Hence, he chose suffering and isolation instead of restoration and reconciliation. He viewed the return of his brother as a serious threat to his own inheritance.
The elder son, although he felt that he was good, never properly utilised the blessings at his disposal because he was too narrow-minded and conceited. He failed to understand the grace of God and the true significance of forgiveness.
The father, however, remained constant in his love for him. He told him that: “You are ever with me, and all that I have is yours but it is only fitting that we celebrate and be glad; for your brother was dead, and is alive, he was lost and is found.”
The sentiments expressed by the father had little or no bearing on the son. Because of envy and rage the elder son completely refused to participate in the party.
Although the father reminded and assured him that one day, he would inherit everything, and that they should still celebrate the return of the younger, the elder son refused to listen to the plea of his father.
Perhaps his only form of reference was the mere practice of fulfilling the “law, merit, and reward”, rather than practising genuine love and graciousness.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, as we celebrate this fourth Sunday of Lent, we approach Your throne of divine mercy humbly seeking Your pardon and forgiveness. We are guilty of our offences since many times we behave like the elder son. We allow rage, jealousy, bitterness and envy to dominate our lives even when we try to practise good.
According to our way of thinking, we try to do what is right and we often think that we seldom make grave mistakes, like the younger son, but whenever we fail to extend that hand of courtesy and compassion to others we act like the elder brother. We become arrogant, conceited and unforgiving.
Father, we acknowledge our guilt and we beg your forgiveness and pardon. Stretch out that mighty hand over us, stretch out that powerful hand over our families, stretch out that guiding hand over our community and give us that pardon that comes only from You, for we are contrite.
Father, we sincerely want to live a good and holy life and we take comfort and assurance that it is quite possible but only with your guidance. Father, continue to bless and pardon us now and forever. Amen.
Prodigal Son attributed to Calabrese.
By Fr Gabriel Julien