FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT

The parable of the Prodigal Son is an extremely dense tale, rich with many layers of meaning. It offers at one time a phenomenology (the study of the development of human consciousness and self-awareness as a preface to or a part of philosophy) of the process of conversion, a powerful and even shocking image of the unconditional nature of God’s forgiving love even before we repent, and a sharp rebuke of the self-righteous attitudes typified in the older brother. Each of the three figures in the story carries an important mes-sage for us today, just as they did for Jesus’ contemporaries and for the community of Luke. Read against the backdrop of to-day’s first reading, the parable becomes a story of how the “disgrace” of the son’s slavery is rolled back. Like the ancient Israelites celebrating the Passover meal in the Promised Land, the son is offered a festive meal with which to celebrate his reconciliation. The early Christian community of Luke would surely have understood that authentic conversion leads to the Eucharistic table. (RCL).

According to Jewish law, eldest sons inherited a double share of the estate, so the younger brother’s portion is only a third. A father would normally deed property to his sons while continuing to collect rent until his death. But the brash younger son demands everything now, effectively depriving father and brother of potential revenue. The events in the “distant country” are significant: the son’s gradual dissolution, and his loss of identity. By the end, he’s become more Gentile than Jew as he resorts to tending pigs. He reeks of self-pity and self-hatred as he rehearses what he will say to his father. (LTP).

“While …. A long way off” is the most important information we have about the father.That he runs to meet and kiss the boy is a great revelation of his character. Sincerely, the son be-gins his rehearsed speech, but the father stops him and instead orders a celebration. “Robe” and “ring” signal that the boy will not return as a servant but as a son.

The Father of Mercies came down to meet him.He em-braced him and ordered his servants, namely the priests, to put on him the best robe, sonship, in which he had been clothed before through holy baptism, and to place a ring on his hand, putting the seal of contemplative virtue on the active part of the soul, as symbolized by the hand, as an earnest of the inheritance to come. He also ordered them to put shoes on his feet as holy protection and assurance to empower him to tread on snakes and scorpions and all the power of the enemy.

Then he orders the fatted calf to be brought, slain, and offered at table. This calf is the Lord himself who is lead out from the hid-den place of divinity, from the heavenly throne set above all things. Having appeared on earth as a man, he is slain like a fatted calf for us sinners, that is, he is offered to us as bread to eat.God shares his joy and celebration over these events with his saints, making our ways his own, and his extreme love for mankind, saying, “Come, let us eat and be merry”