The Parable of the Prodigal Son
This Sunday is the third Sunday in Advent, named Gaudete Sunday in the Catholic church, referring to Philippians 4 when Paul tells us to "Rejoice in the Lord Always." Today is the Sunday of Joy. The Parable of the Lost Son, like the Parable of the Lost Sheep, is a parable that should strike joy in the hearts of sinners like us. Does it for you? Or do we react like the older brother who is jealous? We can become cold and bitter as we await our beloved Jesus. Be careful not to, because it is then that our faith begins to die and if our church starts feeling that way, it starts to die as well.
Let's refresh our minds and hearts with possibly the most well-known parable of Jesus.
Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
I won't go into details about the story, it's very well discussed so many places, because I want to focus in on the older son, who, like so many of us individually and collectively, we emulate so much of our lives. I want to learn how to get out of the vicious cycle of jealousy so inherent in our sin-nature and like Pope Francis I think joy is the key.
Notice how inwardly focused the son is. All he could think about was himself. He even goes so far as to yell at his father, which demonstrates just how deep his jealousy had become since his brother had been away. The older son focused on the shortcomings of his brother. The older son wanted his father to celebrate himself rather than his brother, the sinner. But he refused to celebrate his brother's repentance. How often do we refuse to celebrate for other Christian communities who have found Jesus? How often do we mumble about them saying to ourselves and behind their backs, "They don't believe in Jesus in the right way. They aren't holy enough with their worship. They don't say the right creeds. They don't really know Jesus. How could they? Just look at them? And what's with the beards and the drums anyway!" You get the picture.
Now the younger brother may have a lot to learn. And he may not, but we should focus on our sin first—the sin of the older brother. How do we help God transform the older brother to a brother who emits joy? Firstly, don't "refuse to go in" like the older brother did. Instead we throw our arms in the air and rejoice with him. We join the party. We certainly don't focus on his shortcomings, like the older brother did in the parable. It will kill the party. No need to worry, the Holy Spirit will convict him and us of our sin, so we don't need to shove it in his face.
We join the father and his servants when the father said, "Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fatten calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate!" We do all we can to celebrate their coming to Christ, despite the gulf that seems to exist between us.
Now I'm thinking of individuals who have recently come to Christ, but I'm more focused on the Church and all the various traditions new and old who love Jesus and profess Christ as their savior and King. How often to we just criticize them, saying how they got it all wrong? It's a sad state of affairs when we act like the older brother and are no different than the Jewish establishment of Jesus' day. For it was this group of Pharisees and teachers of the Law who were represented by the older brother.
Does your church act and sound like the older brother? If so, step out of your comfort zone and like the servants of the Father, visit the other churches, bring out the fattened calf, give them freely the rings and bring out the best robe. For they need it for their sanctification and you need acts of charity for yours! They need you to rejoice with them, even if you think they don't get it. We must rejoice in the Lord always and this is exactly what we are being told to do.