4th Sunday in Lent

This coming Sunday marks the fourth Sunday in Lent (Year C; but if you are attending a Mass at which one of the RCIA scrutinies is celebrating, you will hear readings other readings).You can read a complete commentary on this gospel here.

The traditional title of the parable focuses on the younger son who left home, the so-called prodigal son. Pause for a moment and ask your self if you know the definition of “prodigal.”  Years of leading Bible Studies has revealed that many people think “prodigal” carries the meaning of disrespectful, sinful – after all, didn’t the young man waste all his money on wine, women, and song – at least that is the charge of his older brother. Regardless of how the money – or more to the point – the inheritance was wasted, it is the waste that is key. The word “prodigal” means wasteful, profligate, or reckless. Continue reading

The Lost: returning

Prodigal_Sons_web17 Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger.  18 I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  19 I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”  20 So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.  21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’  22 But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  23 Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, 24 because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began.  Continue reading

The Lost: going away

Prodigal_Sons_web11 Then he said, “A man had two sons, 12 and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them.  13 After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.  14 When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need.  15 So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine.  16 And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any.  17 Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger.  18 I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  19 I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers Continue reading

Prodigal Son: the father

prodigal-sonThe Homecoming of the Son and Welcome by His Father. Tashjian notes “As Westerners we cannot really understand what the father has done unless we put ourselves in the context of Eastern culture and way of thinking. The son had dishonored his father and the village by taking everything and leaving. When he returns in tattered clothes, bare-footed and semi-starved, he would have to get to the family residence by walking through the narrow streets of the village and facing the raised eyebrows, the cold stares, the disgusted looks of the town people. So when the son is still far off, before he has entered the outskirts of the village, the father sees him and decides immediately what he must do. In compassion for his son and to spare him the pain of walking through the gauntlet of the town alone, he runs to him, falls on his neck, and kisses him.” Continue reading

Prodigal Son: what was lost

prodigal-sonThe Departure of the Younger Son. The parable begins with the younger son asking for what he considers his share of the inheritance – something that is for the father to decide. In the asking, the son communicates that he does not view the inheritance as a gift given because of his father’s good graces; rather he sees it as his due.

Kenneth Bailey, a NT scholar who lived for years in the Middle East, asked many people in the Near East cultures how one is to understand the younger son’s request. The answer is consistent and harsh: the son would rather have his father dead so as to gain the inheritance. In an honor/shame society it would be appropriate to ask, “What father having been asked by a son to give him inheritance…” Again the Lucan answer is not the answer of the society. The father grants the request. Where the younger son asks for “the share of your estate (ousia) that should come to me.” Luke tells us that the father “divided between them his property (bios, literally “life” – see note on 15:12).” Continue reading

Prodigal Son: inherit

prodigal-son11 Then he said, “A man had two sons, 12 and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. 13After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. 14 When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. 15 So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. 16And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. 17Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. 18I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”‘ 20So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. 21His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ 22But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, 24 because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began. 25Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. 26He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. 27 The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ 28He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. 29 He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. 30 But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ 31 He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. 32 But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’” Continue reading

Prodigal Son: context

prodigal-sonLuke 15 is one of the most unique chapters in the Gospels in that it consists of three memorable parables: the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Prodigal Son. Many commentators locate these three parables (Luke 15) within a larger section of Luke that asks the question “who will participate in the reign of God?” (13:10-17:10). The section includes the foundational formation of the disciples – but often via the encounter with the Pharisees in which the assumptions of right relationship with God are put to the question. The Pharisees and others in the Jewish religious leadership assume folks such as tax collectors and sinners are outside the “faithful remnant” that awaits the return of the Messiah. At issue is the question of fellowship in the community of God’s people. Each encounter in this larger section seems to be an opportunity to form the disciples (and anyone who would listen) in the understanding of the reign of God. Continue reading