March 27, 2022; Luke 15:1-3, 11-32; 4th Sunday of Lent
Today’s gospel is about celebration. The father in the parable prepares a great feast to celebrate the return of his prodigal son, and he expects everyone to participate in it. As he says to the elder son, “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.”
The father in the parable stands for God, and this parable is telling us that if we wish to be a part of God’s family, we must be willing to rejoice. Now how we rejoice depends upon where we situate ourselves in the parable. I would be willing to bet that most of us here would not place ourselves in the shoes of the prodigal son. We have not betrayed our family or dissipated our livelihood with prostitutes. Most of us would identify with the elder son who honored his father, did what was expected of him, and worked hard for the sake of his family. And identifying with the elder son places us at a certain disadvantage when it comes to celebration. After all, if we were like the younger son who made a mess of our life and then was forgiven and given the finest robe and a ring on our finger, who could help but rejoice? But if we are like the elder son who spent his days doing good and working hard, it might require a bit more effort to find a reason for celebration.
And it must be said that the elder son in the parable does not do this well. He is presented as angry, judgmental, jealous, and dissatisfied. How often do those qualities characterize our life? How often do we find ourselves angry, judgmental, jealous, or dissatisfied with our life? And if we are, how can we claim to be part of the family of God? Who will believe us if we claim that God loves us and that Christ has saved us? How will we bring ourselves to enter the celebration that God has prepared for us?
I know that there are many things that are wrong in our life and in our world. Gas is over $4.00 a gallon. Your arthritis might have kicked in. Your son may have just filed for divorce. We are on the brink of war in Ukraine. Over three million children die each year because of malnutrition. We could add to this list endlessly. We must, of course, address the things that are wrong in our life and in our world. But the question that today’s gospel poses to us is this: “Is there good news or is there not? Does God love us or are we mistaken? Can we find reason to rejoice, or should we continue to complain?”
Where God stands is clear. God has blessed us abundantly. God has given us life, relationships and a standard of living that was the envy of the world. So, the music has begun. The celebration is in full swing. Now we, like the elder son, must decide. Will we hold on to anger, judgment, jealousy, and dissatisfaction, or will we surrender to God’s love and enter the feast?