4th Sunday of Lent Gospel Lectio Divina
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.
O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.
Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them Jesus addressed this parable: “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began.
Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”
“While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion”
When we turn back to God with a contrite heart, we don’t have to do any negotiating. His mercy is already overflowing, ripe with compassion. The prodigal son prepared a speech. He was ready to plead his case and ask for whatever his father gave him in recognition of his fault. But his father only wanted to show him mercy and restore him to his rightful place in the house.
“this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again”
These words have relevance in all our lives, especially mine. My transgressions led to a spiritual death, making me question everything, even my faith. But the gospel message put me back on the path of life, showing me that faith in the Father’s goodness brings an abundance of grace. The Father does not want me to wallow in despair over my past sins. What I have done is just that: done. He wants me to look to the potential of my future with him. He invites me to new life. He is willing to forget all of the mistakes I made if I would just accept his mercy, my inheritance, and my mission.
“Now the older son had been out in the field”
It’s important to remember to whom this parable is addressed: the scribes and Pharisees. They wanted to know why Jesus sat with sinners and tax collectors. The first part of the parable explains why. The story of the prodigal son is their story; they lived a life of sin but are now seeking to return to the Father. Out of love the Father welcomes them as any good father would. The second part of the parable, regarding the older son, is about the scribes and Pharisees. At least from their point of view, they have been serving God. They have been faithful, and so shouldn’t they also receive a fattened calf and a ring? Jesus’ answer is yes, indeed. But they do not accept God’s generosity. Out of pride they try to store up treasures on earth like high esteem and fancy clothes. They try to receive appreciation from God through their own merit instead of by accepting the Father’s grace. Some scribes and Pharisees probably did serve God decently, while still having the wrong outlook. But the Lord looks at the heart. He is more concerned about why we do things than he is about what we do; because when life’s biggest choices demand that we choose between selfish pursuits and selfless love, the condition of the heart will be what determines the decision we make. If we relied on the merit of our external deeds that were void of love, we will abandon God when he asks us to do something out of love–like stand by him at the Cross. Even then though, if we run away, he will welcome us if we return–just as he did for his apostles when they returned to him. While the prodigal son and the older son are two different characters in the parable, in reality each of us may play both roles at one point and another in our lives–or even both at the same time. St. Paul, for example, could have been considered both the older son and the prodigal son at the time of his conversion. He had abandoned the true faith for the legalistic heresies of the scribes and Pharisees, but returned to God, humbled and reborn. Yet, in his eyes, he was a faithful Jew who always stayed, who was steadfast in living the faith he knew the best way he knew how. He was always present and obedient in following the laws, but he was too prideful to accept God’s grace while doing so, and this made him bitter–even to the point of despising the prodigal sons who returned to God by repenting and accepting Christ as their savior.
“everything I have is yours”
Possessions, honor, wealth–these are the things we measure our lives by for some strange reason. We will always be tempted to compare, compete, and complain when someone has something we think is better than what we have. But Jesus is inviting us to look at life in a different way. Don’t compare what you have with what others have, because your Father in heaven has everything and everything he has is yours. This doesn’t mean we can take whatever we want. But if we do the Father’s will, all we need to do is ask for something and he will give it to us. The asking part is essential. God wants us to acknowledge the value of our relationship with him; a relationship of a father and his children. The older son did not receive anything from the father because he did not ask. How many times have I grown bitter out of jealousy over the graces other people receive? If I simply asked God for the good things I want out of life, maybe he’d be more willing to give it all to me. Asking for God’s grace requires humility, though. It requires acceptance of the fact that I can’t acquire the things I want on my own, and that I am nothing without God.
“your brother was dead and has come to life again”
It is good that the parable ends with a resurrection, because that is what Lent is all about. We are left with a sense of renewal as we head into the last days of the season. Easter will be the new life Jesus talks about, but first we must die to ourselves. This process takes at least 40 days. But if we have slipped throughout Lent that is okay. The whole rest of the year, and our whole life, can be a journey into deeper holiness. Don’t despair if you’re not having the best Lent. The spiritual exercises you have been practicing can be continued. And if you have been having a good Lent, even better. Take those new good habits into the rest of the year, the rest of your life. Ask and you shall receive. The Lord is doing great things with you. Just believe in him, and don’t be too proud to ask for an abundance of his grace.
Dear heavenly Father,
Whether I am here with you, or lost on one of my foolish misadventures, help me to remember that your grace and mercy are always available to me. You are my Father and I am your child. I cannot achieve anything in this life without you. Bless me with your embrace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
The parable of the prodigal son has so many real-life applications. How does the story apply to your life today? God speaks through his word and through life. His word is a lamp to guide us through our daily lives. Let the words of this parable echo throughout your day, and see the ways God is calling you home, or telling you to take advantage of the heavenly treasures that are already yours.
Kilby is a freelance writer from New Jersey and managing editor of Catholic World Report.