Luke 15: 1-3.11-32
1 Now all the customs officers and the wicked had begun to frequent Jesus to listen to him. 2 But the Pharisees as well as the Bible scholars grumbled, complaining that he was opening his arms to the wanderers and eating with them.
3 Then Jesus told them this story from life:
11 Jesus adds another story. "There was a man with two sons. 12 The youngest said to his father, 'Dad, give me the portion of inheritance that is due to me from what you have'. Then the father shares his property. 13 And without waiting a long time, his suitcases made, the younger went on a journey to a distant country. And it was there that he wasted what he possessed by leading a dissolute life. 14 After having exhausted everything, it happened that there was a great scarcity in the country where he was, so that he began to experience poverty. Reacting, he offered his services to a citizen of the region, who sent him to the fields to take care of the pigs. 16 Oh! As he would have liked to eat the carobs devoured by the pigs, but no one gave it to him. 17 After stepping back to reflect, he said to himself, 'How many of my father's employees have all the bread they want, while I'm starving'. 18 So I'll get up to go to my father, and I'll say, 'Dad, I have sinned against God and against you, 19 and I have no right to be your son, but hire me as one of your servants'. 20 Then he gets up to go to his father. But as he is still far away, his father sees him at a distance and is upset to the very heart. He immediately runs to him and throws himself on his neck to kiss him. 21 And the son said to him, 'Dad, I have sinned against God and against you, I have no right to be called your son'. 22 Immediately the father speaks to his servants to ask them, 'Quickly, bring the most beautiful coat to put on, put a ring on his finger and sandals on his foot. 23 Bring the calf also being fattened, cut it down, and party with a banquet: 24 For this son was dead, he is now alive, he was lost, he is now found'. And they started to celebrate.
25 But the eldest son was still in the field. As he approached the house, he heard the music and the dance steps. 26 So he calls one of the service boys to inquire about what was going on. 27 They told him that his brother had come home, and that the father had slaughtered the calf that was being fattened, because he had found it in good health. 28 At that moment he became angry and did not even want to enter. Then the father went out to pray to him. 29 The eldest said this to his father: 'It has been so long since I am at your service and I have never disobeyed your rules, and yet you have never bothered to give me even a worthless thing like a male goat to celebrate with my friends 30 On the other hand, when your son is here, who comes back from having devoured all your possessions with the whores, you have taken the trouble to slaughter the fattened calf'. 31 The father answered him, 'My child, you are still with me, and you know that what is mine is also yours. 32 But it was necessary to celebrate and rejoice that your brother, who was dead, had returned to life, who was lost, has been found.' "
Waiting for ever
Gospel commentary - Homily
The parable of this Sunday, called by several "Parable of the Prodigal Son", is well known. I would be tempted to say: what can I add to a story so striking, so moving, at the end of which a father finds his lost son? It is used in all liturgies on forgiveness. Does not it speak for itmself? No. Because the risk exists to be lulled by these strong images, without seeing the dimension that it can take in my life.
In recent years there has been a movement called "Restorative Justice". Its approach is to focus on alternatives to the so-called traditional approach of punishing offenders. Its motivation? According to a report by the Canadian Department of Justice, the risk of re-offending is much lower with this new approach. A pragmatic mind might add, "It costs more in the short run, but cheaper in the long run." Similarly, there is also a movement of personal growth among American psychologists whose forgiveness is the sixth and last stage, after having gone through the recognition of personal suffering and anger. In this perspective, forgiveness is a final form of liberation. Where is the parable of Jesus in all this?
In the core of the parable there is a father whose heart is bleeding because his son is no longer there and the bonds are cut off. Without despair, he waits for the return of his son, he watches constantly to the point of seeing from afar. Previously, how many times did he look away unsuccessfully? Surprisingly, he does not make any complaints. On the contrary, it is party, a huge party, excessive. There is something a little crazy about the father's attitude. The immense joy that inhabits him, this "madness" that guides him wants to translate his overflowing love, incommensurable and immortal. When Jesus tells this saying, he says to me, "Here is your God, here is your Father, that's what I'm trying to say in all my life." This is what the Christian faith says in this whole debate about justice and forgiveness. But this perception is far from obvious for anyone who has never actually experienced it. I remember that young homeless boy that my daughter had talked to on an Ottawa street: he was kicked out of the house by his father, on the pretext that he had principles and did not tolerate drugs.
But there is more. While the cadet declares himself unworthy of being a son and prepares to assume the duties of servant, the father, who sees it otherwise, gives him the bracelet or ring, a sign of his dignity as a son. The challenge of the son: to be as great as the father sees him. In the same way, the eldest doesn't know himself: he sees himself as a servant obedient to the letter to a master, not being able to take a kid to celebrate with his friends, while the father says the opposite: Come on! All what is me is yours, you have the same privileges as me. Some time ago I read the moving testimony of a father who, after going bankrupt with his business, was forced to take his daughter out of a private school. But his misfortunes did not stop there. His daughter suddenly turned to the job of dancing in bars. After a few years when the money flowed, the woman aged, the wrinkles appeared and she was relegated to bars in small towns. One day, her father came to the shack where she lived, hoping to restore the bridges: invectives, reproaches, sacarsms, that's all that came out of her daughter's mouth. And the father concludes: "How much she hates herself!"
In the debate about offenders and evil, a small portion of our society perceives the liberating force of forgiveness. It is in this context that the Christian faith makes a fundamental contribution in revealing this Father's face to the source of our lives and revealing what a human being is before Him. Why could not we be like this Father waiting, looking at a distance every day, never saying, "It's over, there's nothing left to wait, there's nothing left to do". If I love, I am condemned to wait for ever, always hoping to see my son appear in the distance.
The season of Lent symbolizes this long march to the promised land. With those who are waiting for reconciliation in this world, let's keep walking. Let us know that a walk is never too long for someone who knows how to love. This was the attitude of Jesus, why not ours?
-André Gilbert, Gatineau, December 2003