Fourth Sunday of Lent

So he got up and went back to his father.
While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
His son said to him,
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you;
I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
But his father ordered his servants,
‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him;
put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.
Then let us celebrate with a feast,
because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
he was lost, and has been found.
Luke 15:20-24

Today we heard in the Gospel reading one of the most famous of Jesus’s parables, that of the Prodigal Son. The younger son asked his father for his share of the inheritance; he asked to have right away the good things that would come to him on his father’s death. He was so greedy that he literally couldn’t wait for his father to die! The father, surprisingly, granted his son’s wish. Not surprisingly, the son quickly spent everything he was given and ended up destitute. Remembering his father’s goodness to his servants, he resolves to return home to beg forgiveness and to be treated as one of the servants. The father sees him coming and runs to him, welcoming him home with all of the grandeur of a prince.

Neither of his sons knew his father; the younger cherished material wealth above his father and even when he recognized his father’s goodness to his servants he failed to recognize his father’s goodness to his sons. He didn’t know that his father was daily watching for his return, ready to welcome him home with open arms, forgiving everything. He thought that his sin of first obtaining and then squandering his inheritance stood between them, changing the relationship.

We often fall into the trap of thinking like the younger son. Especially in today’s world of instant gratification, waiting to receive the good things God has for us can be hard. Sin so often is a choice to forsake a greater good later for an instant, but lesser, good now. Just as the younger son wanted his inheritance immediately without regard to his future, so we also will settle for less now rather than more and better later. When we realize our mistake and turn back to God we can fail to see Him as the loving and forgiving Father He is. We see that He is good, and just, but we fail to grasp the magnanimity of his forgiveness and love. We can think that that very goodness and righteousness is a barrier to love rather than a conduit. We’ve fallen again and again, covered figuratively in the mud of the pigs as the younger son might literally have been, and seeing the state of our soul we lose confidence in approaching Our Father, we lose confidence in His forgiveness and His love.

When the father saw his younger son returning, he ran to him and embraced him! The sin didn’t stop him, not even the smelly mud of the pig pen would keep him from embracing his son. Jesus told us this parable not so much to teach us about ourselves, but to teach us about Our Father. It is important to be able to recognize the depths to which we have fallen in order to truly see the depths of God’s love for us as He reaches out His hand to lift us back up and to embrace us, mud and all.

We’re now at the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday. Rose replaces the penitential purple of the liturgy this Sunday, encouraging the faithful to persevere in their Lenten observance as Easter is quickly coming! In today’s liturgy we experience a little preview of the Easter joy to come. We’ve spent Lent examining our conscience, coming to know personally our own need for salvation. Today we focus on God’s amazing love for us. Yes, we’ve come to see how weighed down in sin we are, but today we hear the joyful news that there is nothing to keep us from God’s love except our ourselves. He’s waiting with open arms, watching eagerly for our return.

Nothing you have done is too much for God to forgive, there is no person so broken that God cannot heal, no person so lost that God cannot find. You may feel a million miles from God, but He’s only one step away, waiting for you.