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Fourth Sunday of Lent - The return of the children

The prodigal son, perhaps this is the most beautiful of all the parables told in the gospels. The story is traditionally retold and explained focusing on the figure of the prodigal son or the prodigal father whereas the focus on elder brother in the original story is often lost in retelling the parable. 
 
The parable goes like this. One day the younger son of a wealthy landowner comes to his father and asks for his inheritance. He silently divides his wealth between his two sons, in accordance with what the law establishes. This father’s behaviour indicates the respect of God for the choices of man. He exhorts, educates, advises, accompanies, but always leaves freedom also to make mistakes.
 
Why does the younger son hurriedly decide to leave the family? Probably, he sees in his father a kind of tyrant who imposes his will and does not allow him to do what he wants. Perhaps also because of the judgmental and legalistic elder brother! He ends up among the heathens, breeders of pigs, unclean animals par excellence (Leviticus 11:7). It is the image of total alienation from God, rejection of all moral principles, the choice of a dissolute and uninhibited life. The rabbis said: “Cursed be the man who rears pigs.”
 
The experience of disappointment of the younger son is providential. We note that the concern of the younger son is not the pain caused to the father, but hunger. He is craving for the food that his father’s servants eat.
 
Then, he leaves and implements, in every detail, the project in his prepared speech. Now the father sees him a long way off. He sees him first because he has always been waiting for him. He kisses him. Faced with the reaction of the father, the prodigal son cannot finish his confessions, the father cuts him off and starts to celebrate. The son who only wants to be a servant is now reinstated to the house as a son. His return is celebrated with a banquet.
 
On his return from the field the elder son is surprised by the feast, music and dancing. He is neither invited nor notified. He is indignant and his anger is more than justified: it is the logical reaction of the faithful and irreproachable person before an obvious injustice.
 
The father goes to beg him. The elder son presents his credentials to be treated better. Who among us would dismiss his indignation? That was how the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ time reasoned and that is how many believers today reason. Theoretically we admit that God is right to do what he wants (Matthew 20:15), we recognise that from him we receive everything for free, but basically we continue to think that the righteous are in credit before him, that paradise has to be earned, and that those who do not earn are kicked out.
 
There are always blameless older brothers who do not understand that the father at home does not want servants but children. 
 
 
● Father Fernando Armellini CMF
Claretian Publications
bibleclaret.org
  
Translated by Father John Ledesma SDB
Abridged by Father Jijo Kandamkulathy CMF