Fourth Sunday of Lent: Luke 15: 11-24
In the distant past commentators on this parable tried to speculate about who the younger son and the older son were. Different scenarios were proposed. The older son could have represented the chosen people -the younger son, the Gentiles. However, the more we reflect on this parable we will come to recognize that Jesus is speaking to us directly, to you and to me.
The younger son we can identify with. It is when we think that the grass is always greener on the other side -- that in order to experience life we have to get away from it all, to enjoy the world. The younger son represents times in our lives when we have been reckless, impulsive with our sights set on unrealistic expectations and without reflection or appreciation for the blessings, gifts and even the securities that we already have, we have often taken for granted.
We can also identify with the older son. He is the one who is loyal, dependable and who carries out his duty. At first glance these seem to be commendable qualities. But then we discover that there is no love or affection in him for his younger brother. He shows himself to be resentful and angry. Even his relationship with his father seems lacking in warmth or affection.
As reckless as the younger son is by leaving the security of his home and family, he still remembers the love of his father. In getting ready to return he makes an examination of conscience which is born, not from a feeling of guilt, but by “coming to his senses”. Finally he can see his life and his relationships as they truly are. In this light he truly knows what he is lacking and in his moment of isolation and darkness, he is resolved to return home and work on his relationship with his father which he has in the past taken so much for granted.
Of course, this is a parable about you and me and our relationship with God, our heavenly Father. It tells our story of all the times we have been foolish and turned our back on the God who loves us. It demonstrates that we have so often sought the things of this world as a type of food to nourish our soul instead of the things of heaven. And even from the perspective of the older brother, we must reflect on how often we have hid behind the walls of duty and self-righteousness as a way to excuse arrogance, anger and pride.
Whether we identify with the younger son or the older son or both, what unites us is our common Father. Remarkably he welcomes back the one who wasted the gifts he was given. He also pleads for reconciliation between the siblings. But most importantly this loving father gives both his children the opportunity to join in a feast, a banquet in which the fattened calf, which represents Christ himself, has been sacrificed as the true food which alone can provide the people of God the true source of reconciliation and family unity.
We are not told if the two brothers ever reconciled, embraced and celebrated together the banquet meal prepared for them by their father. How the story will ultimately conclude could depend on each one of us.
Halfway through this holy season of Lent, there is still enough time to reflect on the direction of our lives, how we can easily drift away from God and the eternal securities he offers us. This season of Lent still provides us opportunities, even now, to conquer our pride allowing us to confess our sins, and be reconciled with our heavenly Father so that we can truly partake of this Holy Banquet in thanksgiving and rejoicing.