March 13, 2010


4th Sunday of Lent - C
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

How Do I See Myself in God's Family?

The well-known parable, commonly referred to as "the parable of the prodigal son," is really the story of a loving father and his two sons who do not appreciate the father's love.

The younger son does not want to live with his father. He wants to go away. Moreover, he wants to take his share of the inheritance while his father is still alive. His action, in a sense, expresses his desire for his father to die, so he can take "the share of the estate that should come to [him]."

Then, it is his hunger, not an appreciation for his father's love or his repentance, that forces him to "come to his senses." Thus, he wants to return home, where he does not have to "die from hunger."

And so he returns home, thinking of asking his father to take him in, not as a son, but as "one of the hired workers."

In response, not only does the father restores him to his rightful place in the family, he actually celebrates with a feast. For the returned son, this is the occasion to slaughter the fattened calf that has been fed with grains, not grass, "to put on extra weight and tenderness" for a special celebration. [1]

The older son, though he never leaves home, is never there. Worse, his wish is to be able to have "a young goat to feast on with" his friends. He does not want to share his life or his joys with the father. In the family, he sees himself not as a son, but a slave (a position even lower than a hired worker). [2]

As a result, he sees his father as a master. (Ironically, the servant, while speaking to him, refers to the man as "your father"). And he sees his brother only as "your son," and not "my brother."

Therefore, though he lives with the father, he never knows or accepts his father's love. For him, life in the father's house is burdensome. ("All these years I have slaved for you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.")

In response to the angry older son, the father points out that he has been treating him not as a son, but as an equal. "Everything I have is yours." [3]

Such is the contrast between the loving father and his two sons who never appreciate the father's love. One wants to be a hired worker to have his needs met. The other, sees himself as a slave and life in the father's house a burden.

How do I see myself in God's family?

[1] Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, Sacra Pagina series. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991; p. 238.
[2] The original Greek text is better translated "All these years I have slaved for you" as in The New Jerusalem Bible, New York: Doubleday, 1985 than "All these years I have served you" as in the text of The New American Bible used in church readings.
[3] Johnson, p. 239.

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