Homily, Lenten Sunday 4C
As I’ve mentioned before, my family and I have always thought of ourselves as being very German. And for the most part, we like to be on time, we like to be organized, and we like to work. Now I’ve always loved my family very much, and I’m very proud to be among them, but it wasn’t always easy. Being very German, we don’t necessarily like to talk very much, especially about our feelings. And my dad, in particular, can be a very quiet man. He wouldn’t necessarily say the words, “I love you,” very often because that just wasn’t his way. I think there were times when I was younger that he seemed distant to me. But as I grew up, I started to understand and notice how my dad really expressed his love for us in his actions.
There were nine of us kids at home, and I’m the youngest, and I’m sure my parents had to work very hard to keep us well-fed, and dressed, and to buy us plenty of Christmas and birthday presents. They also taught us the value of hard work with paper routes, mowing lawns, and shoveling snow, which I’m more grateful for now than I was at the time. And they always encouraged us to do our very best in school and in everything we did. But the most striking memories for me when it comes to my dad, and what I find most expressive of his love for us, were the times when he would get a call from one of us and hear that we were in trouble, that the car had broken down, or that we’d been in an accident. He would drop everything and drive any distance to make sure that we were safe, and to bring us home. When I would see my dad go to such great lengths for us in these and in many other situations, I couldn’t doubt that my dad loved us very much and that he loved me.
Jesus became man to reveal God to us as our loving Father. Are we able to experience the love and protection of our heavenly Father, or does he still seem distant to us? How often do we pray to God the Father in our personal prayer? None of our human fathers are perfect, so it can be a real challenge for many of us to experience how God is our Father and how infinitely he loves us. My experience of my dad’s love for me does give me a starting point for experiencing the love of God the Father, and the parable in today’s Gospel is meant to lead us all into the Father’s love.
We often call this the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but the purpose of the parable is more to reveal the mercy and love of the father of the two sons, the father who spends every spare moment watching the horizon for any sign of his younger son’s return, so that “while he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion” and “ran to his son.” The father who “must celebrate and rejoice” now that he has his son back home, safe and sound. The same father who comes out to plead with his elder son to enter the feast, and who tells him with great love, “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.” These images and expressions are only the faintest glimpse of God the Father’s incomprehensible love and infinite desire for each one of us.
You see, it makes very little difference to God how we ended up in the mess that we’re in, how we came to be lost or in trouble, whether we decided to jump in the mud ourselves or whether we just slipped and fell. Like the best of parents, his only concern is to get us cleaned up, and when we are ill, to get us healthy again. So whether we’ve sinned against him or simply hold onto our pride, or whatever has befallen us, his one concern is to bring us home to himself, safe and sound, and he will not rest until he has done so. He will stop at nothing to rescue us even from death itself.
This is the love that God the Father has for each and every one of us, a love that will not rest until we are reunited with him in his unending life. When we start to really experience this love and to desire it, that’s what changes our hearts. That’s what makes sin lose its power over us. We should remind ourselves often, that before God asks anything from us, he desires to give of himself and say to us, “You are here with me always; everything I have is yours.” What is our response to his invitation? Will we return to the Father’s house? Will we enter finally into the feast?