Lent 4 Sunday C- Homilies and Stories

Abraham Lincoln, William Barclay tells us, was asked by a journalist how he would react to the rebels after hostilities ceased. Immediately the President answered, "I will treat them as though they had never been away." President Lincoln must have reflected on this parable often.
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Thomas O’Loughlin,
Introduction to today’s Celebration
 

Today we reflect on our belief that Jesus is the chosen one of God, he is the anointed one, he is the Christ. He is the one who gives sight to our blindness, the one who restores our health, the one who reconciles us to the Father. Today, because it is the Fourth Sunday of Lent, is also Mothers’ Day when we give thanks to God for our mothers, we make a special fuss of them,and think of how much we owe to them for their care and love. So let us begin by thinking of all of God’s blessings to us: for giving us loving mothers, for giving us his love and forgiveness, and for sending us Jesus the Christ.

P.S. This Sunday is traditionally known as ‘Laetare Sunday’ from the opening word of the introit: Laetare lerusalem … (Be joyful 0 Jerusalem …) (Is 66:10-li), which has been retained as the entrance antiphon in the current Missal.
Gospel: In 9:1-41 (shorter form: In 9:1, 6-9, 13-17, 34-38)

The shorter text focuses the listeners on one of John’s great ‘signs’ that reveal the Christ is the light of the world. The blind man encounters Jesus and thereby received his sight. The blind man is to be interpreted as standing for every human being, for each person is in need of having her/his blindness healed. However, the blindness is not fully removed, nor faith complete, until the second encounter with Jesus when the healed blind man returns to him and confesses that he is willing to believe in him. Then Jesus reveals another aspect of his mystery: he is the Son of Man, the one sent to restore creation to God’s plan.
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John Littleton,
Gospel Reflection


The parable commonly referred to as the parable of the prodigal son is undoubtedly one of the most famous recorded in the New Testament. The term ‘prodigal’ means wastefully extravagant or lavish. Thus the parable could also be described as the parable of the wastefully extravagant son.

It would be foolish, however, to assume that our attention should be focused only on the prodigal son when we reflect on the parable. In addition to the Younger son, the parable contains two other significant characters: the father and the elder son. Depending on the context in which the parable is read, it could also be described as the parable of the merciful father, the parable of the resentful son or, if comparing the two sons, the parable of the lost son and the dutiful son. No single title expresses satisfactorily the entire message of this parable and there are several lessons to be learnt.

The younger son was initially driven by greed and lust. He did not respect his father and his elder brother. He was ungrateful and impatient, unwilling to wait for his inheritance and anxious to be free from family work and ties. His behaviour was completely irresponsible. Like so many people today, his attitude was unashamedly: ‘Eat, drink and be merry because tomorrow we die.’ In this way he wasted his gifts and talents. He squandered the opportunities given to him. He sinned seriously.

The prodigal son was typical of people who are self- centred and indifferent towards the needs of other people. Eventually his crazy lifestyle ended and he paid a heavy price for his recklessness although, fortunately, his story did not end in total disaster. He repented before it was too late, having realised how wrong he had been, and, to his amazement, he rediscovered his father’s unconditional love and forgiveness. In the parable, the most important detail about the younger son is not his selfishness but that he returned home repentant and experienced forgiveness.

The merciful father symbolises God’s infinite mercy and tolerance towards us. The father was nonjudgemental and forgiving. He was delighted that his younger son had undergone conversion from his sinful ways and had returned home. His forgiveness mirrors the forgiveness of God the Father. What a marvellous image of God for us. God does not quantify our sins. He readily forgives us and constantly draws us to himself.

Understandably, our sympathy might initially be with the elder brother. He was angry when he learned about the great welcome given by his father to the younger brother. He was self-righteous and full of self- pity. While he was unquestionably a dutiful son, he was also resentful. Like the younger son, he had rejected his father’s love, although in a much less obvious way than his younger brother. The elder brother had sinned too.

There is a crucial lesson in this parable about God’s love. Just as the father loved both sons, so God loves each one of us. The two sons could not earn their father’s love and they did not deserve his love. Instead, they had to accept that it was freely given regardless of how they behaved. Such is God’s love for us.

Finally, the father lost both sons — one to extravagance and the other to self-righteousness. He did everything to draw them back to himself. Therefore, the parable could also be described as the parable of the prodigal father in the sense of the father lavishing his love on both sons.

God is constantly inviting us to return to his loving care when we have sinned. We pray that, during Lent, we will become repentant for our sins and experience God’s steadfast love again.

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Michel de Verteuil
General comments

Verses 1 to 3 are one of several passages in the gospels which give us an overall picture of Jesus’ lifestyle. In your meditation, identify who for you are “the tax collectors and sinners,” people who are outsiders to the community; then, who is Jesus, and finally, who are “the Pharisees and Scribes” who complain.
The main part of the passage is, of course, the parable of the Prodigal Son, one of the most touching passages in the whole Bible, and indeed of all religious literature. It is also the longest parable in the gospels, and so you will have to concentrate on one section of it.
Though it is usually called the parable of the Prodigal Son, it really speaks of three people, and we can meditate profitably on each of them.

The father is the symbol of the perfect lover: you can see him at three points in the story:
• in verse 12, when the younger son asks for his share of the property;
• in verses 20 to 24, when the younger son returns;
• in verses 31 to 32, when he goes out to the older son.

The story of the younger son is in four stages:
• his original choice in verses 11 and 12;
• the result of this choice in verses 14 to 16;
• his first and flawed movement of repentance in verses 17 to 20;
• his return home in verses 20 to 24.

Don’t neglect the older son. His story too is very significant for us, and especially for us religious people. His basic attitude is in verses 25 to 30, and when he meets his father in verses 31 to 32.

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Homily Notes

1. Light and darkness together form one of the great images by which human beings seek to describe both the universe and the mystery beyond the universe. The contrast of light! dark is basic to our existence as day and night, and with light is the association of life, goodness, understanding, and hope; while with darkness there is fear, evil, and confusion. We are beings who live and learn in the light and through sight. Here too lies the sorrow of blindness and the horror that it instills in many: a horror so great that in Jesus’s time the fact that God could let someone be born blind was thought of in terms of God deliberately punishing the blind person (see the longer form of the gospel). Likewise, it is only when we think of how we crave light and sight and vision, that we can see the force of calling Christ the ‘Light of the World’.

2. Because the dark and the light alternate with one another in the physical world, many people think of moral light and darkness similarly changing places, as if light and darkness are in a continual struggle. We glibly hear lines such as ‘the eternal struggle of good over evil’ or speak about ‘the ups and downs in human affairs’. But Christians see Christ as having won a victory over the powers of darkness once for all — we are called to be children of the light. But this victory can now only be seen in our hope: in glimpses, in a glass darkly, in shadows, in images. We will only see the fullness of the light in the life to come.

3. As we approach Good Friday we should recall that this is our victory celebration for Christ’s expensive victory over all that is dark, wicked, evil, and life-destroying in the universe. Today we read John’s sign that Christ is the Light; next week we shall read in John that Christ is Lord of life, and on Good Friday we shall read John’s passion when he declares that his work is accomplished — and in John’s image of Good Friday there is no darkness: Christ conquers the powers of darkness and scatters them in clear daylight. This celebration of Christ as light will reach its climax in the liturgy in the opening moments of the Easter Vigil when we shall gather around the light in the midst of darkness, and then sing the praises of the risen Christ as our light.

4. But the victory of light demands that all who belong to the light be themselves lights, enlighten other areas of a darkened world, and oppose all that takes place in the dark or which darkens the lives of people. One cannot belong to the light and be indifferent to human suffering. One cannot simply shrug shoulders when one hears of policies that oppress people in the developing world. One cannot ignore falsehoods or dishonest dealings in any organisation be it one’s workplace or community or in the church. One cannot rejoice that the light of the creation is but a shadow of the true Light of the universe, and then happily ignore the destruction of the created environment.

5. The desire for Light is great and universal, and the call of Christ the Light of the world is the call to come into the Light. But in a world where there is still much darkness, to be a child of the light is to take on the burdens and crosses of discipleship.
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HOMILY: 

Is God Impartial?
No matter how often I read this parable of the Prodigal Son I am left with a vague dissatisfaction. Rather than being delighted with the mercy of God as shown to the Prodigal, I’m somewhat irked by his partiality, which is suggested by his exchange with the elder son. Fathers do indeed have favourite sons. I’ve seen them listening to complaints about the apple of their eyes and shaking their heads in disbelief. “You don’t know him. He’s not like that at all. He couldn’t do a thing like that. It’s just not in him.” And you the teacher, the priest, the guard, the neighbour, are a nosey busybody, a crank. He might even feel sorry for you. And it is not so with all his sons. “I don’t know what to do with him, Father. He has my heart broken. I can’t understand him. He’s driving me crazy.” Could it be that the Prodigal was the favourite?

Is it that we know too many elder sons too well .. Lads who have stayed at home to care for ageing parents? And by the time they have buried their parents, they have buried with them the best years of their lives. Theirs was a hard life and if they had grudges it was hard to blame them. There is a photo on the mantlepiece in many a country home, which shows him standing outside the old place, surrounded by his brother and his family back on a trip from the States. It’s a telling picture. There he is in his peaked cap and collarless shirt, lean, lined, weather-beaten face, looking more like the father than the brother of the returned Yank.

Most of us probably identify with the elder son. The monotony of our lives make us resentful of the Prodigal’s wild escapade of freedom. We grudge the sinner his good times. It is probably why we accept the doctrine of retribution so unquestioningly. What makes our lives a little more tolerable is the thought that our good times are all before us and part of them, which we can savour now, is that the playboys of this world will pay in full for their pleasures. So in this story the elder son is carrying the standard of all the solid citizens, all the responsible members of the community, “the salt of the earth’, while behind the banner of the Prodigal huddle all that tattered mob of misfits, drop-outs, lame-ducks and the rest of the world’s rejects.

The really puzzling thing about this parable is, why did Christ bother with this epilogue on the elder son at all? Surely if the message of the parable is the boundless mercy of God towards the sinner, then by the time the festivities for the returned Prodigal are in full swing, we’ve got the message. The remainder adds nothing except to divert some of our sympathy towards the resentful elder son. Of one thing we can be sure, knowing the storyteller, it must have a point. He was a master of his craft. Look again at it, but this time if you can, through the eyes of one of the world’s rejects, a dropout, a misfit, or one of the many physically, mentally or socially handicapped. Perhaps this is Christ’s answer to their agonised cry: “Why me? Why was I singled out for a life of frustration? Why should I have been a faulty creation?” What the grudging elder son failed to see was that the world’s prodigals are victims more often than not and have more claims on God’s love and forgiveness.

The ideal short story

They say that’s the best short story that was ever written. Some of its phrases are so powerful that they have become proverbial. Prodigal Son, fatted calf. . . lost and found. A story that has enriched the vocabulary of the world. And not just the world’s vocabulary – the world’s mentality as well. Its way of looking at things. No story tells us more about God or makes us feel better about ourselves. It’s a short story with enormous scope, with the widest possible diameter, in that it embraces our sinfulness at one end and God’s forgiveness at the other. The best part of it, of course, is that it brings both extremities to the centre.

What provoked it? What led Our Lord to tell it? The fact that the Pharisees objected to the company he kept, to his eating with sinners. So he tells the story to give an insight into his own mind and the mind of God.

The story falls into three parts. The first is about the younger son, an impatient lad who wanted his inheritance now. Couldn’t wait for the father to die. Greedy fingers, itchy feet, a sensual nature; wanting to live it up, and to hell with the commandments. A life based on doing whatever he feel like doing – not an unfamiliar story in any generation, including our own. “Sure you might as well, life is that short. Anyway. as long as you’re enjoying yourself, as long as you’re happy.” But the happiness ran out, and he came to his senses. And that’s the big point about him. He came to his senses. He really was repentant. Repentance is to be sorry to be in one place, to want to be in another, and to have the will and determination to get there. To be sorry for our sins, to want a different kind of life, and to have the motivation and determination to change. Well, he had that. He was graced with that. “I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired men” (Lk 17:19). As I say, the big thing about him is that he acknowledged his sins and wanted to be rid of them. He was really repentant.

The second part of the story is about the father. And when you think about it, it’s truly extraordinary. The Gospel says: “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him” (Lk 15-20). Still a long way off, a dot on the horizon. Doesn’t that mean he was on the look.out for him, from the day he left, watching and waiting and praying, like many a father or mother? Doesn’t it illustrate how God the Father feels about each one of us, how much every one of us matters to him, how anxious he is that we’d come back? And he didn’t just wait for the son; he ran out to meet him – met him half-way. Some people feel we should call this story “the Prodigal Father.” To be prodigal is to be wasteful or lavish in your use of things. Well, the father threw his forgiveness around. Not in any grudging or reproving way, but in an explosion of sheer generosity and joy: Kill the calf, we’re having a feast, the son is alive again. The two big points about the father were the prodigality of his forgiveness and the intensity of his joy: “There will be more rejoicing in Heaven over one sinner repenting than over ninety-nine upright people who have no need of repentance” (Lk 15:7). Remember that?

The third part of the story concerns the older son. Boy was he angry. He couldn’t enter into the mood of the party at all. He wouldn’t even go in. His attitude is understandable and he’s treated with sympathy, but his attitude helps to illustrate, yet again, how much more forgiving God is than we are, and how inclusive, all-embracing, God’s love is. It includes the two of them – the rock and the rover. “My son you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right that we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found” (Lk 15:31, 32).

The story of the Prodigal Son needs no elaboration. That is its greatest strength as a piece of narrative. It’s a form of presumption really to be commenting on it at all. The only respectful response to it is personal reflection Just think about it. Savour it. Let it sink in. We’ll all take away different pieces of it, because that’s the way it is with everything we hear. I doubt if any of us will leave behind the central message, however; that there is no limit to God’s forgiveness and that our repentance is not just a condition of his forgiveness but a source of unconfined, indeed infinite, joy. You think God doesn’t want us to turn away from sin? You think God doesn’t love you? You haven’t been listening. (ACP)

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Scripture reflection 

Lord, every Church community, without realizing it, gradually becomes an exclusive group,
where we speak a language that only we understand
and whole categories of people feel uncomfortable;
but you always send Jesus to open up the community.
One such person was Pope John XXIII.
We remember how every kind of person sought his company
and wanted to hear what he had to say,
and he in turn welcomed them and ate with them.
Some in the Church complained, but the world was grateful
because they recognized that Jesus was present among them.

“We must build a world where freedom is not an empty word and where the poor man, Lazarus, can sit down at the same table with the rich man.”     Pope Paul VI
Lord, there is famine in the world today:
• workers having to hire themselves out to work in foreign countries, doing menial tasks;
• children willing to fill their bellies with food fit only for animals,
and no one gives them anything.
Lord, help us to retrace our steps, to recognise the root cause of our problems,
that individualism by which children of the one father
want to have the share of the estate for themselves alone,
and once they have collected what they see as theirs, leave for a far distant country.
Lord, bring us back to understand the world as our father’s house:
• where the word “hired servant” is not mentioned;
• where we are always with one another;
• where when one is lost all feel pain, and when one who was lost is found, all rejoice.

Lord, we remember parents today.
How often they must go along with children who want to take what is their due
and cannot intervene when those most dear to them leave
for a distant country where they squander their money on a life of debauchery.
They must wait until their children come to their senses
and decide to leave that place and return.
Teach them, Lord, that you too have had that experience.

Lord, we thank you for people who have taught us what true forgiveness is
- spouses, parents, faithful friends, a parish community.
We thought forgiveness meant having to say to the one we had offended,
“I have sinned against heaven and against you,”
and being treated as a hired servant rather than as family.
We know now that forgiveness is something totally different,
it is seeing the one who offended us from a long way off,
running to him, and clasping him in our arms, and kissing him tenderly,
bringing our best robe to put on him,
putting a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet
and having a feast, a celebration,
because one who was dead has come back to life and one who was lost is found.
Lord, we pray today for those who are facing death and who are afraid,
that they may find peace in the confidence that when they die they go home,
and you will run to meet them, will clasp them in your arms and kiss them tenderly,
angels will bring out the best robe and put it on them;
they will have died, but have entered into life,
have been lost for a while, but are now found forever.

“We are not on earth as museum keepers, but to cultivate a flourishing garden of life,
and to prepare a glorious future.”
     Pope John XXIII
Lord, many people spend their time complaining,
complaining that they have worked hard and not got their due reward,
or that others have wasted time and money and have been blessed.
We see this even in the Church.
We thank you for people like Mother Teresa who enlarge our horizons
and show us how petty our concerns are,
who open up for us new possibilities in human relationships,
where one person can say to another, “I am always with you,” and “all I have is yours.”

“It is God who demands that man should be free;
man himself loves servitude and easily comes to terms with it.”
     Berdyaev
Set us free from our bondage, Lord,
showing us that you are always with us and all you have is ours.

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ILLUSTRATIONS: 

1. In 1986 Henri Nouwen, a Dutch theologian and writer, toured St. Petersburg, Russia, the former Leningrad. While there he visited the famous Hermitage where he saw, among other things, Rembrandt's painting of the Prodigal Son. The painting was in a hallway and received the natural light of a nearby window. Nouwen stood for two hours, mesmerized by this remarkable painting. As he stood there the sun changed, and at every change of the light's angle he saw a different aspect of the painting revealed. He would later write: "There were as many paintings in the Prodigal Son as there were changes in the day."

It is difficult for us to see something new in the parable of the Prodigal son. We have heard the story so many times we believe that we have squeezed it dry of meaning. Not only that, but, as the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. When we hear the opening words of the parable once again, "And there was a Father who had two sons," we greet the words with ho-hum. Heard it. Heard it. Heard it.
Yet, I would suggest that just as Henri Nouwen saw a half dozen different facets to Rembrandt's painting of the Prodigal Son, so too are there many different angles to the story itself. This morning I would like for us to re-examine this familiar story by looking at the other prodigal son...
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2. In many local elementary schools, every few weeks the "Lost and Found" box is emptied out and the contents are scattered down the length of the main hall. Coats, mittens, shoes, sweatshirts, gym clothes, are all laid down and spread out in the hopes that their owners will spot them and take them home. But the scene of all those empty clothes creates an eerie sensation, as if it is not the clothes that had been left behind, but that the children themselves have somehow been "lost" - zapped out of their clothes and transported to somewhere far away. For any parent walking down those empty halls, those empty clothes give an empty feeling, a feeling that is disturbing and desolate.

Losing track of a child is every parent's worst nightmare. It only takes a moment to go from peaceful to panic when you suddenly realize that somehow, someone has gone astray. And, sorry to tell you this, it is a worry that never stops. Just when you think you have gotten through the scary "I can walk but not really talk" phase, children go off to pre-school and kindergarten - out of our sight for hours on end. Then they get older and want to do things like ride their bikes to a friend's house, or go to the mall by themselves, or "hang-out" without you quite knowing where they are or what they are doing. For some reason teenagers always insist on getting driver's licenses and then they graduate from high school and go off to college, or join the military, or get their own place. It doesn't matter how old they get - parents still want to know where their "kids" are and how they are doing. "Out of sight" definitely does not mean, for a father or mother, "out of mind."

But good parents also know there is a time and place when letting go is necessary. To grow and develop their own sense of responsibility, to take their own actions seriously, and to learn to live with the consequences of those actions, children have to let go of the "family lifeboat" and dare to test the untamed waters of the world. 

Yet for Jesus' first-century audience, such a message was unfamiliar...
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3. God Said... 

Is there a better picture of forgiveness in the whole Bible? It reminds me of a story about a woman who had upset her pastor because she claimed that she had conversations with God. She had attracted quite a following in the church and every day people gathered at her house, got on their knees, prayed, sang hymns and listened to her describe what God was saying to her.

The pastor thought all this was getting out of hand, so he went to visit her. "I know you say you are talking with God," he said, "but what you hear talking back at you is just your imagination. Just to prove it, I want you to ask God to name three of the sins that I confessed this morning. Then tell me what God said. If you can name those sins, I'll believe that you really are talking with God." The woman sat there for a long while, praying. Then she looked up and said, "I asked God to name your three sins, but God said, 'I forgot.'"

Norm Linville, The Prodigal Father
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4. He Seeks Until He Finds You 

There is a wonderful story about Maya Angelou. She is an active member now of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco. She wrote that years ago when she first came to San Francisco as a young woman she became sophisticated. She said that was what you were supposed to do when you go to San Francisco, you become sophisticated. And for that reason she said she became agnostic. She thought the two went together. She said that it wasn't that she stopped believing in God, just that God no longer frequented the neighborhoods that she frequented.

She was taking voice lessons at the time. Her teacher gave her an exercise where she was to read out of some religious pamphlet. The reading ended with these words: "God loves me." She finished the reading, put the pamphlet down. The teacher said, "I want you to read that last sentence again." So she picked it up, read it again, this time somewhat sarcastically, then put it down again. The teacher said, "Read it again." She read it again. Then she described what happened. "After about the seventh repetition I began to sense there might be some truth in this statement. That there was a possibility that God really loves me, Maya Angelou. I suddenly began to cry at the grandness of it all. I knew if God loved me, I could do wonderful things. I could do great things. I could learn anything. I could achieve anything. For what could stand against me with God, since one person, any person, with God form a majority now."  

There are many people who are just like that. They think it is unbelievable that God would know me, that God would love me, that God would know my name. Just the grandness of it, as Maya Angelou says, that God would really love me. But that is the gospel. He seeks you until he finds you. She found that God found her, in San Francisco. 

Mark Trotter
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5. Admitting We Need Help 

Sign seen in a textile mill, "When your thread becomes tangled, call the foreman." A young woman was new on the job. Her thread became tangled and she thought, "I'll just straighten this out myself." She tried, but the situation only worsened. Finally she called the foreman. "I did the best I could," she said. "No you didn't. To do the best, you should have called me."  

Traditional
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6. Where Are We At the Parable's End?

Let's step back outside with the older brother, still in need of a shower, arms folded across his chest, the moral high road. "But when this son of yours came back ... you killed the fatted calf for him." He cannot even bring himself to acknowledge his brother with a name -- "this son of yours." A sense of unfairness, as you know, can turn venomous rather quickly.

So where are we at parable's end? Are we inside the party celebrating? Or are we standing outside with our arms folded, refusing to come in? Jesus will not tell us how this story will end. The father passionately invites the older son inside, "pleads with him" to join in the welcome. Curiously, however, we are never told what the older brother decides to do. The story ends but it doesn't end. You can almost hear the voice of Walter Cronkite saying, "You are there." Will we RSVP to a party thrown by an unfair God? Or will we stubbornly remain outside? In a world where God does not play fair, this parable forces us to make a choice. Who is the real "prodigal" here? Who is the real "waster"? From the beginning Jesus says that this is a story about two brothers. Which one is the authentic prodigal? Which one has yet to come home to the Father's extravagant love?

Frank G. Honeycutt, Sermons on the Gospel Reading, Cycle C, CSS Publishing
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 7. Our Own Sin Is Hard To See
 
Let me tell you a true story. Back in 1893 there were a group of four sisters. The Cherry Sisters they called themselves, who made their stage debut in Cedar Rapids in a skit they wrote themselves. For three years, the Cherry Sisters performed to packed theaters throughout the Midwest. People came to see them to find out if they were as bad as they had heard. Their unbelievably atrocious acting enraged critics and provoked the audience to throw vegetables at the would-be actresses. Wisely, the sisters thought it best to travel with an iron screen which they would erect in front of the stage in self-defense.

Amazingly, in 1896 the girls were offered a thousand dollars a week to perform on Broadway -- not because they were so good, but because they were so unbelievably bad. Seven years later, after the Cherry Sisters had earned what in that day was a respectable fortune of $200,000, they retired from the stage for the peaceful life back on the farm. Oddly enough, these successful Broadway "stars" remained convinced to the end that they were truly the most talented actresses ever to grace the American stage. They never had a clue as to how bad they truly were!

The parable this morning does not tell us what the elder brother did when his father came out to speak to him. It doesn't reveal to us whether he realized that his envy and disdain had made him just as bad as his younger brother. Yes, the elder brother had never stooped to find himself in the pigpens of life. He would never have been caught dead carousing with prostitutes or wasting his resources in riotous living but in the end his refusal to rejoice at the return of his sinful brother was, to Jesus, just as offensive.

The tragedy was that he never realized just how bad HE truly was!

Lee Griess, Taking The Risk Out Of Dying, CSS Publishing Company.
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8. We Prefer Justice to Mercy

Perhaps you remember the cartoon strip, Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin is a little boy with an overactive imagination and a stuffed tiger, Hobbes, who comes to life as his imaginary friend. In one cartoon strip, Calvin turns to his friend Hobbes and says, "I feel bad I called Susie names and hurt her feelings. I'm sorry I did that." Hobbes replies, "Maybe you should apologize to her." Calvin thinks about it for a moment and then responds, "I keep hoping there's a less obvious solution." We have trouble accepting those whom God accepts because we take God's acceptance for granted and God's forgiveness as our right.

We are much like the elder brother who preferred justice to mercy. We have worked for what we have (or so we think), and it's unfair that everyone else should not have to do the same. We have earned God's favor (or so we think) by "staying at home." We have merited his acceptance by the good life that we live. So how dare God receive and accept our sinful brother who has returned home saying he's sorry.

Lee Griess, Taking The Risk Out Of Dying
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9. Who Resented The Prodigal's Return?

The Religious Ed teacher was reading this story of the Prodigal Son to his class, clearly emphasizing the resentment the older brother expressed at the return of his brother. When he was finished telling the story, he asked the class, "Now who was really sad that the prodigal son had come home?" After a few minutes of silence, one little boy raised his hand and confidently stated, "The fatted calf." 

Staff
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10. What the World Expects of the Church 

On a cold, dreary December evening, several hundred people gathered at a large downtown church in Winston-Salem to celebrate the Christmas season. Bishop Ernest Fitzgerald, present that evening, had gone down a long hallway to help a small boy who was pushing against massive oak doors trying to get outside. The boy was about 2 years old and as he pushed he was crying as if his heart would break.

The Bishop picked him up, thinking he belonged to someone at one of the Christmas parties but as he opened the doors and looked outside he spotted an old-model car speeding away in the darkness. Gradually, it dawned on him that the child he held in his arms had been abandoned.

Phone calls were made, and soon the church was filled with people wanting to help in any way they could. Within moments, the local TV stations interrupted their usual programs to ask if anyone knew the identity of the little boy. The next morning, one of the city's newspapers put the child's picture on the front page. Under the picture there was an article describing the events of the evening before. The article began with this striking line: "Someone trusted the church last night, and the church came through!"

Bishop Fizgerald later reflected on this event and wrote these words...
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11. The Drunkard Soldier
The story is told about a soldier during combat. He was drinking heavily and was a constant menace to his comrades. His commanding officer had had him on the carpet several times. But on this occasion he was ready to throw the book at him. Said the colonel to his lieutenant, "I have given him every break." The officer responded, "Sir, you have punished him and it hasn't worked. Why not forgive him?" The colonel accepted the advice. To the soldier he said, "I have punished you many times. Punishment has not worked. This time I am going to forgive you. Your many offences will be removed from your personnel folder." The soldier, who had expected a court martial, broke down and wept. More to the point, he never drank again.
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Stories from Fr. Antony Kadavil (akadavil@gmail.com)

# 1: Reconciliation with a hook: An elderly man on the beach found a magic lamp.  As he picked it up and started cleaning it, a genie appeared and said: “Because you have freed me I will grant you a wish.”  The man responded.  “I had a fight with my only and older brother thirty years ago.  I want to be reconciled with him so that he may forgive me and start loving me.” The genie said, “I am glad that you did not ask for money or riches.  Your wish is granted.  Are you sick and about to die?” the genie enquired.  “No way!” the man shouted.  “But my unmarried, older brother is about to die and he’s worth about $60 million!!” 

# 2: "Release this guilty wretch at once!"  The Prussian king, Frederick the Great, was once touring a Berlin prison.  The prisoners all fell on their knees before him to proclaim their innocence - except for one man, who remained silent.  Frederick called to him, "Why are you here?"  "Armed robbery, Your Majesty," was the reply.  "And are you guilty?"  "Yes indeed, Your Majesty, I deserve my punishment."  Frederick then summoned the jailer and ordered him, "Release this guilty wretch at once.  I will not have him kept in this prison where he will corrupt all the fine innocent people who occupy it!" 

 # 3: Letter from Prodigal Son? Dear folks, I feel miserable because I have to keep writing for money.  I feel ashamed and unhappy to have to ask for another hundred, but every cell in my body rebels.  I beg on bended knee that you forgive me. Your son, Marvin. P.S. I felt so terrible I ran after the mailman who picked this up in the box at the corner.  I wanted to take this letter and burn it. I prayed that I could get it back. But it was too late. A few days later Marvin received a letter from his father. It said, 'Your prayers were answered.  Your letter never came!' 
 
#4 Gandhi’s confession: Mohandas K. Gandhi, "the Father of the Nation” in India, in his famous autobiography, My Experiments with Truth, writes about his own experience of theft, confession and forgiveness as a schoolboy.  “I was fifteen when I stole a bit of gold out of my brother's armlet to clear a debt of about twenty-five rupees, (U.S. $3 in those days), which he had incurred. He had on his arm an armlet of solid gold.  It was not difficult to clip a bit out of it.  Well, it was done, and the debt cleared.  But this became more than I could bear.  I resolved never to steal again.  I also made up my mind to confess it to my father.  But I did not dare to speak….  I decided at last to write out the confession, submit it to my father, and ask his forgiveness.  I wrote it on a slip of paper and handed it to him myself.  In this note not only did I confess my guilt, but also requested an adequate punishment for it, and closed with a request to him not to punish himself for my offence.  I also pledged myself never to steal in the future.  I was trembling as I handed the confession to my father.  He was then confined to bed.  I handed him the note and sat on his bed.  He sat up to read it. He read it through, and pearl-drops trickled down his cheeks, wetting the paper. For a moment he closed his eyes in thought and then tore up the note.  He again lay down.  I also cried.  I could see my father's agony.  Those pearl-drops of love cleansed my heart, and washed my sin away.  Only he who has experienced such love can know what it is…  This sort of sublime forgiveness was not natural to my father.  I had thought that he would be angry, say hard things, and strike his forehead.  But he was so wonderfully peaceful, and I believe this was due to my clean confession.  A clean confession, combined with a promise never to commit the sin again, when offered before one who has the right to receive it, is the purest type of repentance.  I know that my confession made my father feel absolutely safe about me, and increased his affection for me beyond measure."
# 5: A Father’s Forgiveness: In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, Phillip Yancey tells the story of Ernest Hemingway.  Hemingway grew up in a very devout evangelical family, yet there he never experienced the grace of Christ.  He lived a libertine life that most of us would call "dissolute"… but there was no father, no parent waiting for him and he sank into the mire of a graceless depression.  A short story he wrote perhaps reveals the grace that he hoped for. It is the story of a Spanish father who decided to be reconciled with his son who had run away to Madrid.  The father, in a moment of remorse, took out this ad in El Libro, a newspaper.  "Paco, meet me at Hotel Montana, Noon, Tuesday…  All is forgiven… Papa."  When the father arrived at the square in hopes of meeting his son, he found eight hundred Pacos waiting to be reunited with their fathers. Was Paco such a popular name?  Or is a father's forgiveness the salve for every soul? 
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