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THE LOVING AND FORGIVING FATHER

Father Francis's picture
Fourth Week of Lent

Lk. 15:1-3, 11-32

The parable in today's Gospel has to be the best short story ever told. Charles Dickens, for whom I have a great respect, called it “the most touching story in literature”.

It is about a young man who ran away, got into trouble and then decided to return home. He had left because he wanted happiness and freedom to do his own thing, but he made an awful mess of his life. When he hit rock bottom he was willing to trade his cherished freedom to be a servant in his father’s home.

On his way back he prepared his speech, “Father I have sinned. I am no longer worthy to be your son. Make me a hired servant.” But his father who had been missing him ran to meet him and the speech was smothered in a forgiving embrace.

The way the father treated the younger brother tells us he was a caring and sensitive father would surely have tried to prevent him from making a disastrous choice. He would have tried to reason with him. When the father realised he was wasting his time, he gave him what he asked for and knew he would have to learn by his mistakes.

You would have thought that that would have been a good place to end the story. But Jesus continued, to tell us about the reaction of the elder son when his younger brother returned home.

As soon as the servant had told the older brother the news he should have found his Dad, embraced him and said, 'Oh Dad! I am so happy for you.' Then he should have looked for his younger brother and told him, 'You will never know how much Dad missed you and how happy you have made him.' Instead he behaves like a spoiled and selfish child, determined not to join in the festivities.

His bad disposition destroyed two vital things in his life. One was his happiness. Gone was the smile from his face. Life had lost its lustre, not because he was sick, not because he had ruined his life with drugs, alcohol or sex, but simply because his attitude was hostile and selfish.

The second thing he lost through his bad disposition was his usefulness. He refused to participate. He just walked away and sulked. There was a lot to be done that day to welcome back his brother. He could have joined in the preparations. The place was teeming with activity. Servants were hurrying here and there. The father was busy making sure everything was just right, but the elder brother wanted to have nothing to do with it. His bad disposition had disqualified him from helping.

Notice the selfishness of the elder son. When he talks there is no concern for his father or brother, for their happiness and feelings. In the few words he speaks he reveals his selfish attitude. He had slaved not to be proud and happy to work in his father’s business but only for a reward. Knowing the kind father as we do his attitude should have been, 'What a privilege it is to have such a father and be able to work for and with him.'

Now let us look at the father’s response to the elder son. After his son’s complaint would many a father have said, 'You know how I have longed for your brother and my son to come home. Could you not be happy for us? Why do you have to spoil the occasion?' But those were words farthest from his mind. Instead, so lovingly, he says, “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours.” I think the ‘Parable of the Prodigal Son’ is the wrong title – it should be the ‘Parable of the loving and forgiving Father’. Jesus told us this parable precisely to inform us that we can be like either the younger brother, a prodigal, or the elder brother, self-centred, and that we have a Father in Heaven who just cannot stop loving us.

Heavenly Father, help us to cultivate a consciousness of the presence of You as a loving and forgiving Father Who is with us always, to make us want never to leave You but, when we fall, to know that You will always be there to embrace us.

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