Today we take a break from the more solemn Sundays of Lent and say “rejoice!” For this one day we put away the the purple and bring out the rose. It’s a symbol of the joyful nature of our Catholic faith.
Today we hear the famous parable of the Return of the Prodigal Son. It’s a familiar story. We’ve heard it hundreds of times. What can I possibly tell you about it that you haven’t heard before? Probably nothing. But, hey, it’s my job so I’ll give it a try.
Starting at the beginning, before we even get into the story of the father and his two sons. Luke tells us that Jesus is hanging out with tax collectors and sinners and the Pharisees and the scribes don’t like it one bit. The tax collectors and sinners are like the Prodigal son and the Pharisees and scribes are like the son who stayed home. We may miss this first paragraph, but it’s the whole reason for the parable. He wants to teach them, and us, an important lesson. The story of the Prodigal son, and his father, and his brother is a story about prayer.
So, we begin the actual parable and the younger son says to his father, “Give me the share of your estate that should come to me.” “Me, me, me. It’s all about me.” Admit it. Isn’t this how we pray sometimes? “Give me this. Give me that. Me, me, me.” We’re like the seagulls in the Disney movie who keep saying, “Mine, mine, mine.” All the young son is thinking about is what he thinks he has coming.
To our modern ears this young man seems to be just a little greedy. But, in Jesus’ time, his attitude would be considered much worse. In that culture, what the young son is saying to his father is “You’re dead to me. You might as well go ahead and give me my share of the inheritance now.” It was about as hurtful a thing as anyone could say to a parent. But the father, being a good dad, says “yes” and the kid packs up his stuff, takes the money, and leaves home. His prayer has been answered. But, as most of us know, you’d better be careful what you pray for.
The kid blows all the money on wine, women, and song. He ends up broke and alone, doing about the worst job any Jew could think of, taking care of pigs. He’s so low,he wishes he could have some of the food that the pigs are getting. He’s hit rock bottom.
In modern-day twelve-step programs that’s considered the turning point. When an alcoholic or an addict hits that bottom, then he or she is ready to ask for help. In this young man’s case he realizes that he belongs at home. Maybe dad will treat him as well as he does the hired servants. That’s all he wants. So he heads home. In his mind he practices what he’s going to say. His prepared speech sounds an awful lot like confession, doesn’t it. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. Please take me back.”
For the next point we have to shift back into first-century mode again. While the young man is still far off his father sees him coming. That means the wise older man isn’t surprised to see sonny coming back. He’s been waiting and watching for him, just like God waits and watches for you and me when we’ve strayed. He knows we’ll be back eventually. What does the father do? He ran to his son!
That was not the protocol in those days. Even the most compassionate father would have seen the boy coming and waited for him, maybe with open arms, but he would have made the son come to him. Not this guy! He ran to meet his son, again just like God runs to meet us when we call out to Him.
We know the rest of the story. Father rolls out the red carpet for younger son. Older son is jealous. “When YOUR SON returns you slaughter the fatted calf!” He can’t even bring himself to call the other son his brother. Take that Pharisees and scribes! In your face!
This parable has been the subject of several books, probably the best by Henri Nouwen called, surprisingly, “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” It’s a good read and sheds more light on this story than I ever possibly could. You should read it.
But, here’s what I take from it. The Prodigal son’s prayers are all about himself. “Give me the share of your estate that should come to me.” Sadly for him, he gets what he asks for. When he hits bottom his prayer suddenly changes. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. Please take me back.”
When the young man’s prayer becomes focused on his sinfulness, rather than what HE wants, the outcome is a whole lot better. That’s how it works. God answers our prayers when we focus on Him and on others. Not my will, but thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Very simple but very difficult.
By now you should have all received your Beyond Sunday information. Please prayerfully consider what you can do to help educate our kids. They’re the future of the faith and they need our help. Every one of us had some kind of Catholic education, either in Catholic school or in PSR. Someone had to pay for that and chances are it wasn’t us. Our parents, our fellow parishioners, and people we didn’t even know made sacrifices so we could get that education. Now, we’re being asked to pay some of that back.
In today’s bulletin there’s a list of employers who will match your contribution to Beyond Sunday. Maybe the company you work for or are retired from is on that list. If so, be sure you check the matching gift box on your pledge card.
If not, it’s still important to realize that so many big companies, many of them not based in Saint Louis and not run by Catholics, recognize the importance of Catholic schools in our community. They know that our schools produce well-educated, moral young people who make their companies more successful. Hopefully, as Catholics, we recognize the same thing.
God told Saint Francis to build His Church. Being a deacon, Francis didn’t quite get the message straight and started hammering nails and cutting boards, actually building church buildings. After a while he realized that that wasn’t what God meant. Build the Church was something entirely different.
Over a century ago, Bohemian immigrants started building this church, this physical building so that you and I would have a place to worship in 2016. Today you and I are being asked, like Saint Francis, to build the church, not by physical labor, but by our prayers and our contributions. Let’s not be like the Prodigal son, praying only for ourselves.