Homily: 4th Sunday in Lent
Sunday 31 March 2019
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli
For those of us who have seen out a few decades, the parable of the father and his two sons is very well known to us. Even school-aged children would readily recognise it. Such is our familiarity with the story that I’m sure you could probably repeat it nearly word for word, as well as recall at least half a dozen decent homilies preached on it over the years (and that’s not counting the not-so-decent ones.)
At different times in our lives, most of us will have played each of the roles in this story: that of the loving, long-suffering parent, who only wants to embrace even the most wayward child; that of the younger son whose utter selfishness and pride have brought him low, and who is desperately in need of mercy; and the older son, who has lived responsibly and above reproach, yet is scandalized by the generosity and leniency with which the sinfulness of others is treated. We have been each of these people; and each of these stories we know only too well.
All of Jesus’ parables were, in one way or another, word pictures about God. If we want to learn what Jesus thought about the true nature of God, then the parables will teach us all we need to know. It is worth noting, therefore, that the parable of the father and his two sons is the longest, and most detailed story Jesus told. Here is God painted for us in full colour and depth.
Both sons, the picture shows us, had lost themselves; but through the father’s love, they were offered ways to be found, one through mercy and the other through justice. Both will need to come to grips with this change. The Father’s love is a love that strives to hold everyone together.
This is not the picture of an angry god who seeks only to punish wrong do-ers; such a god will end up being rejected, and rightly so. Nor is this a picture of an over indulgent god who does nothing else other than placate at the first sign of difficulty; such a god needs to be outgrown as soon as possible.
Jesus shows us instead the God who loves realistically and effectively: loving each person from loss to gain, from death to life. Loving both sons in the ways they each needed to grow; a God of new life, fresh hope, renewed possibilities.
In the end, the most basic and most obvious feature of the story of the father and his two sons is the play between repentance and forgiveness, revealing for us the real marks of love. This is the image Jesus paints of God in the parable, and the image we most need to see. Why? Because none of us is ever far from the need to repent, nor from the desire to be forgiven. And none of us are at the point where we can say he have overcome the need to offer repentance and learn to forgive. None of us.
Repentance and forgiveness. Jesus went to the cross carrying images of this kind of love, so that we might find repentance and forgiveness in our own lives: first to receive them from him, and then to give them to others. To be reconciled, and to reconcile; to repent and forgive. What more need we know?