Lent 4 Sunday C: Laetare: Rejoice: I had lost him and now I found him


4 sun of Lent

Prodigal-Son5
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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.

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.
John23One 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, forgive
“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, God waits
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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Thomas O’Loughlin,
Introduction to today’s Celebration
Mothers-DayToday 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. seed of hopeThe 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.

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. good Friday1As 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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3. Sean Goan
Gospel
Prodical sonIt could be said that there are two important journeys in the great parable of the Prodigal Son. One is that of the younger brother who realises the foolishness of his ways and turns towards home not sure what to expect and certainly not expecting what he finds there.
prodigal son2The other journey is, at least in distance, much shorter. It is that of the older brother who remains out in the fields unable to make the brief trip home because of his rage and anger. In  Lent the focus is usually on the long return home but it might well be that for many of us the real challenge is to recognise in ourselves the desire to limit God’s mercy to those we consider worthy. Such a mindset may still keep us away from our true home with the Father.

Reflection
What Paul is saying about reconciliation is explained in the gospel for today not by concepts or ideas but in the story of the Prodigal Son. If the season of Lent were to come and go without us giving time to thinking about reconciliation, then something would indeed be missing. It would be tragic if we came to Easter without being moved by the overwhelming compassion of our God who seeks out the lost and celebrates our return to him. It would also be tragic if we were to forget that if we welcome God’s forgiveness for ourselves then we automatically become ambassadors of that forgiveness to others. We must be careful not to end up like the older brother who is resentful of God’s generosity to the undeserving.
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4. Donal Neary S.J.
Gospel reflections

Give me the legacy
This is a real family story about breakups and reconciliation, about love that covers all sorts of happenings and about love to the end. It is about a father who loved all the time, and many a parent identifies with it.
Look at a few things… the son had wanted him dead… ‘give me the legacy Da’. Everyone knew that. He had shamed the family. And the old man waited for years, hoping that his loved son would return.
Look at what happened when he came home – mercy took over – the run, robe, ring and the sandals. He was welcomed as a son. The father doesn’t even say once that he forgives. He loves totally and that includes forgiveness.
It’s mercy all the time. That repairs the loss. The son wanted to be a hired servant and that would have kept the old man at a distance. He was brought back as a son.
The story is also a call on us to have mercy. People all do wrong – often great wrong. We need a lot of mercy in our country now, but we can’t hold bitterness forever. The gospel today encourages us to love as we have been loved with the love that is merciful.
mercy
And even when we can’t do this – like the elder son – we are still loved. The father says – All I have is yours. God gives his love all the time and waits for our response. Mercy may take time. And God has all the time in the world.
Lord have mercy, on me and on all,
today and every day. Amen.


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From the Connections:

 THE WORD:
The parable of the prodigal son, as today’s Gospel is commonly known, is probably the most inaccurately titled story in all of literature.  Jesus’ tale tells us less about the boy’s sin than about the abundant mercy of his father who forgives his son and joyfully welcomes him home even before the son can bring himself to ask.  The father’s joy stands in sharp contrast to the prodigal son’s brother, who cannot even bring himself to call the prodigal his “brother” – in confronting his father, he angrily refers to the brother as “this son of yours.”  This parable of forgiveness and reconciliation (found only in Luke’s Gospel) reveals a God of such great love that he cannot bear the loss of a single child.  Jesus holds up the father as the model of the love and forgiveness of God the Father that we should seek in all relationships.

 HOMILY NOTES:
The father in today’s Gospel parable is held up by Jesus as the model of the minister of reconciliation.  Note that when he catches sight of his son in the distance, the father runs to greet and embrace him before the prodigal can even open his mouth to begin his carefully rehearsed speech.  The father welcomes his son joyfully and completely, with no recriminations, no conditions, no rancor.  A parent’s love is the very reflection of God’s love for each one of us – love that always welcome back, love that reconciles and heals, love that perseveres through every hurt and heartache.
Jesus calls us not to condemn or gloat or belittle the prodigals among us but to enable their return, to keep picking them up no matter how many times they fall, to open our arms and welcome them back again and again and again.
 
Forgiveness demands that we be play all three parts in the drama of the prodigal son: to be the prodigal son, facing up to our own culpability and selfishness that causes division and hurt; to be the forgiving father, being openhearted enough to make the first step to welcome back into our lives those who have hurt us; to be the older brother, putting aside our own hurt and outrage (no matter how justified) for the sake of reconciliation and peace within our families and communities.
 


The ‘long days’ of waiting
Mom and Dad wait.  It’s well past their bed time, but calling it a day is out of the question.  Their teenager is out with friends.  Curfew is eleven.  They know he’ll be home on time — sure enough, they hear the door slam exactly at eleven.  Coming into the living room, he asks, “Why did ya wait up?”  Trying to be cool, they say “We weren’t waiting up — we just wanted to see the end of this movie.”  Then it’s off to bed for everyone, their home once again complete and at peace.
Mom and Dad wait.  Everything has been a blur since the call came:  Meaghan was crossing the street on her way home from school and a car came out of nowhere and the driver didn’t see her and someone called 911 and . . .  After hours of surgery, they sit by Meaghan’s hospital bed, their precious little girl hooked up to a wall of blinking monitors.  For the time being, this small hospital room is home.
Mom and Dad wait.  The angry words still resonate in the house.  Over time, this storm, too, like the hundreds of other squalls that rock a family, will blow over.  Until then, Mom and Dad put aside their own heartbreak and ready themselves to be the forgiving and welcoming parents when angry son or put-upon daughter comes back — because that is what you do when you’re a Mom and Dad.
Mom and Dad wait.  One afternoon, their son hopped on his bike to go to a friend’s house but never arrived.  The days became weeks, the weeks months.  The police are baffled, but Mom and Dad never give up.  They organize volunteers to search.  They appear on television and radio, set up a website and listen to anyone who might help — from profilers to psychics.  They quit their jobs, deplete their savings and borrow against their retirement to find their child.  For Mom and Dad, it has been one long, continuous day since that afternoon weeks ago.  But when you’re a parent, the last thing you surrender is hope.
The love of a parent for his/her child is a remarkable thing.  Children often have no idea how much their parents do and would do for them; many good parents don’t realize what their love for their sons and daughters enable them to do.  In the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus holds up the boy’s father as a model of compassion and reconciliation.  He runs to greet his son and embraces him before the boy can get out one word of his carefully-rehearsed speech; the father welcomes his son home with no recriminations, no conditions, no rancor.  The father has never lost hope in his son’s return; his love has survived the hurt and anguish of his son’s leaving.  A parent’s love is the very reflection of God’s love for each one of us — love that always welcomes back, love that reconciles and heals, love that perseveres through every “long day” of waiting.
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From Fr. Jude Botelho:

Today'’s first reading from the book of Joshua highlights the history of salvation of God'’s chosen people. Moses had led the people out of Egypt; now Joshua would lead them into the Promised Land. God had fed his people as they journeyed with manna from heaven, now that they have reached the land of promise, manna is replaced by products of the land. God ceases to be a pilgrim; he takes the risk of binding himself to
institutions.  Today's reading reminds us that no matter what difficulties we encounter on life's journey, we too can make it with the help of God. The only thing we need is persistence and faith that God never abandons us.

  Footprints in the sand
  One night a man had a dream. He was walking along the beach with the Lord. Across the sky flashed scenes from his life. In each scene he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand: one belonging to him and the other belonging to the Lord. When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints, and that,
every time that happened, he was at the lowest and saddest times of his life. This really bothered him and he questioned the Lord about it. “Lord” he said, “You said when I decided to follow you, you would walk with me all the way. Why then in the most troubled times of my life, there are only one set of footprints? I don't understand why you should leave me when I need you most.” The Lord replied “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you, During your times of trial and suffering, when you only see one set of footprints, it was then  that I was carrying you.”
  Mark Link in ‘’Sunday Homilies”

  In today's second reading Paul reminds the Corinthians that we are not called to be God's slaves but His children. All people are invited to be God's children. We are called to be a new creation, for anyone in Christ is a new creation. Paul sums up Christ's mission as follows: to reconcile men with his Father and to make them a new creation. Reconciliation with God and with one another is especially needed in the world today with its many divisions. There can be no peace without repentance and reconciliation.

  Today's gospel story of the prodigal son is one of the most familiar and moving portrayals of God's loving compassion for his people. The prodigal son is not a model for conversion. Rather the emphasis is on the mercy of the father and the joy of finding the sinner again. Through this story Jesus was giving practical expression to the Father's invitation to all his children. The story is realistic and full of insights.
Almost every detail of the story emphasizes the immense reckless love God has for us: the way the father was ready to give his son a share of his property though he did not deserve it; the way he looked every day for his son, ran with abandon to meet him and refused to listen to his well-rehearsed speech; the manner in which he dressed him with the finest robe, ring and sandals and how he threw an extravagant feast to celebrate his son's return and tried to persuade his older son to share in the joyous occasion. Every detail is charged with symbolism and  reveals the unconditional love of God. The Father does not wait for his son to come back. He goes out –he runs to meet us. The Father does not wait to listen to the litany of our sins when we pray. He interrupts us to tell us how precious we are to him. How glad he is to have us back and how much he is going to do for us.  If we appreciate God's love we would not be calculating like the older brother and pout about our goodness and find fault with our brothers and sisters. We would rejoice at God's goodness in spite of our weaknesses and those of our brothers and sisters. God wants us to share in his joy and become generous and forgiving like Him.

  Dig Two Graves
The singing career of Grammy award winner Marvin Gaye ended in tragedy on April 1, 1983. He was shot to death by his own father. Gaye's close friend David Ritz wrote Gaye’s biography a year later. He called it Divided Soul. Gaye was indeed a divided soul. He was part artist and part entertainer, part sinner and part saint, part macho man and part gentleman. Gaye’s childhood was tormented by cruelty inflicted upon him by his father. Commenting upon the effect this had on Gaye, Ritz says of his friend: “He really believed in Jesus a lot, but he could never apply the teaching of Jesus on forgiveness to his own father. In the end it destroyed them both.” The story of the unforgiving father and son contrasts sharply with the story of the forgiving father and son which Jesus tells in todays' gospel….. Another way to portray the destructive power of hate or revenge occurs in the film The Karate Kid. In one scene, Mr. Miyagi asks Daniel if he has a good reason to learn karate.
Daniel responds, “Is revenge a good enough reason?” To this Mr. Miyagi responds, “Whoever pursues revenge should dig two graves, one for his enemy and one for himself.”
Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’

 “Not only does this parable reveal God as father, to whose kingdom sinful man has access at all times, provided he returns to the one whom he has abandoned: it is also a revelation of Jesus himself. For it is his own way of acting which constitutes the starting-point of the story. It is in order to justify his own dealings with sinners that Jesus describes the father who hurries out to receive the returning prodigal, and finds his joy in restoring him to his dignity as a son. Finally, every Christian is in danger of becoming like the elder son who, in contrast to the father, is unwilling to welcome back the erring younger brother. The writer Ramuz depicts for us the scene on the last day, with the crowds of the elect pushing their way
towards the gates of paradise and shaking with indignation complaining: “How can he pardon people like that.” And then all those sham devout people, who refuse to recognize their brother in the pardoned sinner, are driven back to hell. The  gospel story does not go so far as that. How it ends depends on ourselves. Will the elder brother, the one we fancy we are like, be able to make the transition from contempt of the sinner to love of them, from the idea of a book-keeping God to that of a Father who loves because he wishes to save?” –

Glenstal Bible Missal

  Matt Houston
Matt Houston is a television programme about a wealthy Texan now turned private investigator. In its premiere showing it gave some background to Matt Houston's life, His mother died giving birth to him. His father was so depressed that he gave up Matt for adoption to his closest friend. The father then drifted away becoming an alcoholic and a criminal. Many years later he finds out that Matt’s life is being threatened because of a case he is working on. So the father returns to warn him. As the story unfolds, their true relationship is revealed. At first Matt refuses to accept his real father. But when the father steps in front of a bullet aimed for his son, Matt’s eyes are opened and he realizes how much his father loves him. The story ends with the father dying in his son's arms –forgiven by his son Matt and embraced in love.
-This television story is really an adaptation of todays' gospel parable, except that the roles are reversed. In the gospel story told by Jesus it  was the son who went away and wasted his life, only to return and be forgiven by his father. In the Matt Houston story it was the father who went away and wasted his life, only to return and be reconciled with his son. Both versions show us what a magnificent love there is between parents and children, and, consequently, how boundless God’s love is for us.    
  Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’

During the forty years Israel spent in the desert, their existence depended on what God provided in the desert. A new era began once they entered the Promised Land. Now that their journey was complete, the Israelites celebrated the Passover anew and the feast of the unleavened bread accompanying it. The manna that sustained them during the journey ceased to be available to them. Like the Israelites, we, the people of God, begin with the Passover and will end with the Passover commemorating God’s loving compassion and care for us sinners. Right through our journey God will provide nourishment for us.

Forgive and be forgiven
Sometime ago a woman wrote a letter to Ann Landers describing the terrible relationship that once existed between her and her brother. It took the death of their father to get her to forgive him and to treat him as a brother again. A short while after their reconciliation, her brother had a heart attack and died in her arms. She ends her letter with this moving paragraph. “I am grateful for the years we had together, but I could scream when I think of all the years we missed because we were too bull-headed and short sighted to try to get along. Now he is gone and I am heartsick.” Today’s readings are an invitation to review the relationships and to bring them in line with Jesus’ teachings.
Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’

In today’s gospel Jesus narrates the well-known parable of the Prodigal son. We are able to witness the patient love of the father who allows his younger son to claim a share of his property and leave home, not warning him never to come back, but perhaps reminding him, that he is always welcome home. Now, this wayward son squanders everything till he ends up taking care of swine. There perhaps he remembers the parting words of his father reminding him that he is always welcome home. The son had not thought of his father but the father had not forgotten his son. While the son is still a long way off, when he sees him coming, the father leaves home, runs to hug him saying, “We are going to have a celebration!” The father must be crazy! Yes, crazily in love with his son! So crazy that he orders a new robe for his son, sandals on his feet to show that he is very much part of the family and then to top it all a grand celebration! The point of the parable however is not the younger son but the elder one. He comes home and hears the sound of celebration and is mad with his father. “It’s not fair!” he shouts out. “He deserves to be punished and treated as a servant and not as a son!” But the father pleads with the elder son “It is only right that we should celebrate and rejoice because he was dead and has come back to life, he was lost and is found.” This parable should fill us with hope no matter how far we have strayed from God. If on the other hand, we have stayed home we should not condemn those who have strayed but rather leave them to our Abba-Father who will welcome us all into his house! Let’s celebrate how good God is to us all –saints and sinners alike!

Leaving Home
People, especially children, leaving home and never returning is a phenomenon found everywhere in the world. Stories by parents whose children have gone missing are heartrending. Since 12 year old Avinash disappeared three years ago in New Delhi, his father has cycled across the sprawling capital, visiting police and railway stations, children’s homes and hospitals, handing out posters and photographs of his missing son. Every time he hears of a child found anywhere in the city, he cycles to the police station, hoping it is Avinash. The boy’s father refuses to think the worst. He believes Avinash is taken by a childless couple who want a child of their own. “If they were to let me know somehow that my son is alive, I would be happy.” says the man. “They can keep him, just let me see his shadow, just let me know he is safe.”
AK
Waiting for his returnThe mother of a 14-year old boy is still waiting for her son to come home. “Everyday my husband and my father would wait at the police station, but they would be driven home” says Parveena, the boy’s mother, as she sits on her son’s bed, surrounded by his pictures and books. The boy’s mother says that one morning in March 2010, she fed her son a breakfast of fried pancakes and spicy potatoes, and then left for a community health training programme. The boy had told his mother that he would have a bath and settle down to study for his exams.” says Parveena clutching the boy’s photograph to her heart. When she returned, he was gone. “The neighbours said some boys had called him out. We searched everywhere, we went to the police but they refused to believe that something had happened to our son.” – These are cases of people missing against their will, but what about people who willingly choose to go astray? Today’s parable teaches us that God is always waiting. He never gives up!
Anonymous

Inability to forgive
The singing career of Grammy award winner Marvin Gaye ended in tragedy on April 1, 1983. He was shot to death by his own father. Gaye’s close friend David Ritz wrote Gaye’s biography a year later. He called it Divided Soul. Gaye was indeed a divided soul. He was part artist and part entertainer, part sinner and part saint, part macho man and part gentleman. Gaye’s childhood was tormented by cruelty inflicted upon him by his father. Commenting on the effect this had on Gaye, Ritz says of his friend: “He really believed in Jesus a lot, but he could never apply the teaching of Jesus on forgiveness to his own father.” That story of an unforgiving father and son contrasts sharply with the story of the forgiving father and son, which Jesus tells in today’s gospel. And the contrast between the two stories spotlights a growing problem in modern society. It is the inability or unwillingness of people to forgive one another.
Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’

Prodigal Father

Matt Houston is a television program about a wealthy Texan now turned private investigator. In its premiere showing it gave some background to Matt Houston’s life. His mother died giving birth to him. His father was so depressed that he gave up Matt for adoption to his closest friend. The father than drifted away, eventually becoming an alcoholic and a criminal. Many years later he finds out that Matt’s life is being threatened because of a case he is working on. So the father returns to warn him. As the story unfolds, their true relationship is revealed. At first Matt refuses to accept his real father. But when the father steps in front of a bullet aimed for his son, Matt’s eyes are opened and he realizes how much his father loves him. The story ends with the father dying in this son’s arms – forgiven by his son Matt and embraced in love. This television story is really an adaptation of today’s gospel parable, except that the roles are reversed. Both versions show us what a magnificent love there is between parents and children, and, consequently, how boundless God’s love is for us. In his book ‘Rediscovering the Parables’, Joachim Jeremias says that the Prodigal Son story tells us with impressive simplicity what God is like – a God of incredible goodness, grace and mercy.
Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’

Mutiny on the Bounty
Mutiny on the Bounty is one of the most adventurous maritime episodes in history. Captain Bligh sailed in the ship to Tahiti in search of breadfruit plant for the West Indies. He was proud and ruthless, and many of his crew were against him. While returning from Tahiti, most of the sailors rebelled against him and a mutiny broke out. The captain and 17 of his sympathizers were forced into a small boat and were left on the high sea. The mutineers, 15 of them with the ship Bounty went to Tahiti. Gathering with them some men, women and children, they reached a small Island called Pitcairn in the Pacific Ocean between New Zealand and South America. Afraid that they might be found out if they had the ship, they saved whatever they could carry and burnt the ship. This group of undesirables perpetuated their evil lives of drinking, revelry and murder. Within ten years of their landing on this island only one survived. His name was John Adams, and he was no better than the rest who died. However, he had to take on the responsibility of the Island’s folks. One day as he was checking the goods salvaged from the ship before it was burnt, he found an old Bible. Though he was not interested in it, it was the only book on the Island, and he began reading it. The Word of God began to work in him and eventually he changed his life and became a new creation in Christ. He built a school cum church and began to lead the children in Christian experience. For years the only book they had was the Bible. Years later, a strong Christian community was formed on this Island. The warm and pleasant behaviour of the people on this Island attracted the ships sailing through the Pacific. In 1980 when a census was taken, all the inhabitants on the Island were Christians.
John Rose in ‘John’s Sunday Homilies’


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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 Kadavi

# 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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