4th Sunday of Lent – March 31, 2019 (Thoman)

II Cor 5:17-21, Lk 15:1-3, 11-32

I. The parable of the Prodigal Son is probably one of, if not the most, beloved and
popular parables in all the gospels. We’ve heard it many times over the years –
any one of us could tell the parable from memory. So when you hear that parable
what is the first image to come to mind? Is it:

  • the younger son asking for his inheritance from his father?
  • or maybe it’s an image of the son standing in the pig pen?
  • or the righteous older son standing outside the house refusing to go in?

When I hear this parable I think of our neighbor’s farm as that perfect setting.
The farm house stands on top of a hill, overlooking the valley below. The Father
could be looking out the window, peering down the road below watching for his
son. The first image which immediately comes to my mind is the father running
down the road, standing in the middle of the gravel road, embracing his son and
all the farm hands gathering around.
The first image which comes to my mind is the father’s act of forgiveness, his
warm and loving embrace. I wonder how many other would share that image
with me.

II. There’s a story making the rounds on the Internet that illustrates the power of
this gesture. It’s about the Bemba people who come from Zambia.

  • they believe every person born into this world is good.
  • every person’s deepest desire is for safety, love, peace and happiness.
  • but when someone from the Bemba people act unjustly or irresponsibly, then they are made to stand in the center of the village, alone and unrestrained.
  • the member people then gather around that person in a large circle.
  • each, in turn, begins to describes the offender’s good qualities.
  • often times their good deeds are described in great detail.
  • all of the offender’s positive attributes, kindnesses and strengths are recited.

Then the circle breaks and the offender is welcomed into the group with a joyous
celebration. The offender is given a fresh start.

III. How God-like is that?! This is how God the Father acts towards us: embracing
us and welcoming us back after we have sinned.

A. The first reading from Joshua finds the Hebrews having just entered the
Promised Land. They eat of the yield of the land in Canaan and celebrate
with the Passover. We are told God has removed the “reproach” of Egypt
from them. Their journey through the desert is over. They are now home
in the land promised to them.

B. Our responsorial psalm invites us to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord,
to rejoice in God’s goodness.”

C. And the gospel parable, of course, is clearly teaching God’s unrestrained love
and forgiveness for us.

IV. These are the images which call out to us today. They beckon for us to look to
the Father’s love and embrace of us. That does not mean we deny our sin. In
fact, that’s the starting point ...

  • we do not deny our sin
  • we do not rationalize our sin away
  • we do not pretend we do not sin
  • the beginning of the Father’s embrace begins when we honestly look our sin
    in the face and admit our sin – just as the Prodigal Son did in the pig pen: he
    hit bottom and recognized his need for his father. Little did he expect he
    would be received with such warmth and love

A. We come to know this warmth and forgiveness in the Sacrament of
Reconciliation. We do not come to beat ourselves up. We come to this
sacrament fully aware of our sin, repentant and remorseful, but also to
humbly receive the Father’s warm embrace and love.

B. The sacrament of anointing is also a sacrament of the Father’s warmth and
loving embrace – which is why I think it is so popular! Stressed by physical,
emotional and spiritual brokenness we come to receive the reassurance of
the Father’s care and will for us to be healed.

V. Knowing the Father’s embrace we become a “new creation in Christ,” as St. Paul
says. Gifted with the Father’s love, we become ambassadors for Christ – sent to
share with others all that God has done for us. We want to tell them that they
too can know the Father’s loving embrace and forgiveness.

(Fr. Dwayne Thoman)