Reflection for the 4th Sunday of Lent (Year C)
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
People often wonder why God usually allows the wicked to flourish and excel while the righteous suffer and even die! The prophecy of Ezekiel answers this puzzle where God asks, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live? (Ezekiel 18:23).
The basic lesson from the prophecy of Ezekiel is that our God is the author of multiple chances; that means God is constantly waiting for the wicked to rethink and come back to him.
The mechanics of rethinking and coming back to God is what St. Paul describes as the ministry of reconciliation, that is, “God reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:17-21).
The Tragedy of Disconnection from God
Today we read the famous parable of the prodigal son, also known as the parable of the merciful father. A young man who is also the second son of his father comes to his dad and requests half of the possession that should go to him.
The father obliged him, and gathering everything he had, he traveled to a distant country and squandered everything until he had nothing left. And when the country went into extreme famine, he had no choice but to hire himself out to feed pigs without pay or food.
The high point of the parable was the moment the young man came to his senses, recalling that he is in the wrong place and needs to go back to his father not as a son, but as a hired worker as he feels he lost his sonship.
The Journey Home
Note that the conversion of the second son started the point he came to his senses or mind. His disconnection also began when he was out of his mind and left home for a distant country. Our mindset plays a decisive role in the things we do. The book of Proverbs tells us that as a man thinks in his heart, so is he (Prov. 23:7).
The next important point on the reconciliation roadmap is putting our declarations into action. The young man said: “I shall get up and go to my father, and I shall say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.” It is one thing to say something and a completely different thing to act on it.
The good news is that the strayed son got up, and he also went back to his father, who gave him an outstanding reception after restoring his status as a son though he asked to be accepted only a servant. Did you notice that the road back to the father was shorter that the way away from the father?
The Opposition to Reconciliation
An aspect of the parable of the prodigal son that does not receive full review beyond the attitudinal level is the older son’s reaction. He showed up unhappy that his brother made it back safe and sound from the distant country to their father’s house.
We did not hear him try to stop his brother from leaving home. On the contrary, it even seemed that he had information nobody had about the brother’s activities in the distant country but made no efforts to help him. Rather, he was unhappy that his father reconciled with him and even gave a feast in his honor.
The older brother’s reaction is an unapologetic description of what the devil does when we try to leave the region of sin back to the loving embrace of the merciful father.
The older son comes with some accusatory confrontation in the likeness of the devil, the accuser (Revelation 12:10). Hear him: “when your son (no longer his brother) returns, who swallowed up your property with prostitutes for him, you slaughtered the fattened calf….”
The simple fact is that the evil one is never happy to see that we reconcile with God and would do anything to frustrate the move. We can also affirm that the older son could have wasted his brother’s life to stop the reconciliation if he had the opportunity.
Moving Forward: Now is the time to return!
Let us take a moment to reflect on the father’s reaction when he saw his son returning from the distant country. The passage says: “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.”
Here we see the image of a father waiting for his estranged son’s return to give him a grand welcome. This is how God is constantly waiting for us to open our hearts. It is like the image of the Lord at the door (Rev. 3:20) where He says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with him, and he with Me.”
Notice that the father did not mind the protocols of seniority and rank as he ran to embrace the son and kiss him. It is also instructive that he did not go back to recount how he left the house and liquidated his wealth. God is not interested in your past as long as you repent and return to him. In the prophecy of Isaiah (43:25), God says: “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake and remembers your sins no more.
Like the estranged son, we may be having the fear that God will not give us access to the same position we had before we transgressed. But, the good news is that something greater than what we had earlier is waiting for us if we return to God.
Another good news is that God will also take away our reproaches due to sin. The First Reading (Joshua 5:9a, 10-12) tells us that God removed the reproaches of Egypt from the people of Israel long after their liberation. So, it is possible to live with reproaches even after returning from the exile of sin.
This is the right time to return to the Lord. The joy and benefits of returning and reconciling with God would outweigh and wipe away the sadness of the distant country.
Furthermore, we are also encouraged today to reconcile with ourselves by forgiving ourselves of our past mistakes and to forgive others. Notice that the first son missed the opportunity to reconcile with his brother. God bless you.