Fourth Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday) Gospel Reflection
Perspective — Maybe you’re looking at it the wrong way
The Pharisee: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!”
Jesus: So why are you complaining? Don’t you see? You’re welcome to join us.
Jesus constantly denounces hypocrisy in the Gospel, because it is the greatest impediment to repentance and conversion. Hypocrisy, not sin, is the stumbling block that prevents us from accepting God’s mercy.
Those poor pharisees fail to see the point behind their own accusation: If Jesus embraces sinners, his arms are always open to us too. If we would only remove the plank from our own eye, we would not only perceive the speck in our brother’s eye in a different light, but more importantly, we would see that there is a place reserved for each and every one at the Father’s table, always.
The beauty of Jesus’s Parable of the Prodigal Son, lies in our ability to relate to it. When we sin, we squander our inheritance on a life of dissipation. This is the defect of our human condition that we inherited from Adam and Eve: to scorn the Father who cares for us and gives us all good things; to use the good things he freely gives us for our own selfish purposes, to our own chagrin. The greatest loss we suffer when we sin is separation from God, our Father.
Eventually, every prodigal son/daughter hits rock bottom. Who cannot relate to this experience? When the son in the parable opens his eyes, he sees the brutal truth, for he not only squandered and lost his Father’s property; he lost himself, and he lost a Father. How sad and shameful the words, “I no longer deserve to be called your son.”
Yet how beautiful, for they are true words of repentance, of a heart turning and opening back up to God.
Herein lies the Paradox of the Parable: “My son, you are here with me always.” These words were spoken to the older son, who never left the Father. Through his behavior we also learn that his heart was never with the Father. This son represents the hard of heart: selfish, self-righteous, and therefore, sinful. The same words, however, could also be said to the younger son, the repentant sinner. In a way, that son was always with the Father too, in the heart of the Father. For, the Father was always looking out at the horizon, awaiting his son’s return with open arms. For both sons, hence for all of us, there’s a place reserved at the Father’s table, always.
In order to take our seat at the Father’s table, we must choose to take our seat. We must accept our humble place, forgive others at the table whom we need to forgive, see our brothers and sisters humbly as we see ourselves, accept the full implications of our Father’s universal love, and above all else, always long for his loving embrace.
This simple message of Lent is the same story told on every page of the Gospel: repent, believe, and accept your Heavenly Father’s universal embrace. If you can realize that much, you will see that his arms are always wide open for you.