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Fourth Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday)

Come Home

Today's Gospel of the father and his two sons, one prodigal the other a home-son, is presented in two 'shells' of interpretation. The first interpretation is in the introit to the Mass. The Prophet Isaiah sees the returned exiles from Babylon looking to the re-establishment of Jerusalem and its Temple in the near future and beyond.

As a child to the breast and a calf to the teats, Jerusalem draws her children. Jerusalem, in symbol, is the place of God's house, his land, his estate. The same imagery is behind the Gospel parable. The father of the Gospel is the symbol of God's drawing all people, good and bad, to his heavenly home. God calls, he draws, he gathers, and he is the fulfilment of all drawn to him. Christ's call is also a call by his Father.

The second shell of interpretation lies in the first three verses of the Gospel. Pharisees criticise Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus eats with both Pharisees and sinners, the goodies and the baddies. He is a sign of his Father's call and drawing power, gathering all men to himself. His eating with all is a sign of his call and gathering power, but also a sign of his heavenly Father's banquet to come.

Jesus gives three parables, two of them very short, and then the final parable of the two sons. The first two are missing from today's Gospel reading. They are parables are about the lost sheep of the hundred sheep and the lost drachma of the ten. Their owners go to search for them. This harks of Jesus's searching for the lost sinners. What is lost is lost from a harmonious whole: one sheep lost from a hundred sheep and one drachma lost from ten drachmas. When they are found, the owners call in the neighbours to celebrate (surely, with a drink or meal implied), the fore-sign of rejoicing in heaven.

The strict Pharisees would not eat with sinners. How does Jesus answer these critics in his parable of the two sons? The father of the two sons reconciles the errant son to himself and has to reconcile his stable son to his errant son. Each son has a good and bad side.

The bad side of the bad son is that he does not see that the father's estate is not for profligate personal reward, but is a livelihood which covers good times and bad times such as famine.

The good side of the bad son is that he is open to grace and open to see that his father represents love, grace, support and family gathering. This stirs him to see his sinfulness against his father and also the heavenly providence of God. He turns from the good meals and expensive life with his lady friends, ponders the worst food, pig-swill, and then turns to his father in his need.

The bad side of the good son is that he has lost vision of his work for his father as using God's gifts and living on God's livelihood. Like the Pharisees he feels as a slave yoked to his father's commandments. He anticipates the father's reception by sending in the 'boy' first. His ideal meal is with his mates, not with the father's table He looks down on his sinner brother as 'this son of yours', not as 'my brother'. The ritual of reception is blocked at the door. He has not seen the household, communal, aspect of his work which respects his father and its relationship to the household of God.

The good side of the good son is that he has respected his father and done his commands, perhaps in an unseeing way. His father nevertheless says to him, 'all I have is yours' in an expansive way. This seems to imply not only 'all' by inheritance, but also that the son lives and works and rejoices in the inexhaustible patrimony of the father, symbolising God. The estate is established in the love of the father and his drawing power unites all concerned with the estate, the source of living generated by the father. The elder son has to become aware of this; he has lost vision.

All of our actions should have an implicit address to God. If not, God calls us to change. If done as a burden, then God calls us to change. If done in superiority to others, he calls us to change.

Be reconciled.

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