YEAR C: HOMILY FOR THE 4TH SUNDAY OF LENT
HOMILY THEME: PRODIGAL SON: COMING BACK HOME
BY: Fr. Gerald M. Musa
HOMILY: The famous parable of the prodigal son is a story with a happy ending. We may want to know the reason for the story. Jesus narrated the parable when the Pharisees and Scribes murmured against him, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Jesus neither rebuked them nor responded harshly to their criticism, but saw their murmuring as a special opportunity to teach them something new about the relationship between God and the sinner.
The prodigal son had requested for his share of property from his father. The son collected his share of inheritance and went away to a far away country where he squandered his future in debauchery and loose living. Thereafter, there was famine in that far away country and the prodigal son experienced acute hunger. His situation was so critical and pathetic that he thought it was best to go back to his father and seek for forgiveness. He was not sure if his father was going to welcome him, let alone accept him back into the house. He was pleasantly surprised to see how his father received him with joy and celebration.
The adventurous life of the Prodigal son appears somewhat similar to that of a fictional character called Peter Pan whose story appears in a section of a novel, “Little White Bird” written by J. Barrie (1928). Peter Pan lived in Neverland where lost children lived and he became the captain of the lost boys. As leader of the lost boys, Peter Pan can summarily be described as mischievous, careless, self-centred. As a baby, Peter Pan had escaped from his parents and stayed away for sometime. When he attempted to come back home he met a closed window and another baby and thought he was no longer needed. He left, and unlike the biblical prodigal son, he never returned again. Peter Pan refused to grow and he turned out to be a good description of what psychologists call Puer Eternus (Eternal Boy) or as some Nigerians call it Old Boy.
The story of the prodigal son says much about the restlessness that goes with wandering. After wandering in far away land, the prodigal son saw a need to come back home. Likewise, the people of Israel wandered in the desert for forty years until they were given a new land in which they settled. When they arrived the Promised Land, they ate the fruit of the land and kept the Passover as a sign that they were no more wanderers. God gave them a fresh beginning and a new opportunity. They found a new home in the Promised Land.
There is surely nowhere like home and that is why the prodigal son never found peace until he returned home. He was courageous to return home because it was not easy coming back home after he had disappointed his family. He needed courage to ask for forgiveness. He required humility to go back and be ready to serve as a servant in his own home. There were numerous challenges and implications of coming back home after many years of wandering in far away land and living a loose life. It must have been a very tough decision for the Prodigal Son to come back home because: The Prodigal Son felt a strong sense of shame for disappointing his family and friends.
• He was burdened with the regrets of past life.
• He was not sure if he would be accepted.
• He felt he was far behind and had to struggle to meet up with his mates who have advanced socially, economically and otherwise.
• He was coming back home with some scars inflicted upon him by his past: sickness, poverty and physical disfigurement (looking far older than his mates).
• He had to endure being the subject of gossip and mockery by neighbours, kinsmen and villagers.
Perhaps, he also worried about who he was going to meet first at home. I wonder what would have happened if the prodigal son had met his elder brother first and not the father. The elder brother would have asked the young man to identify himself. After declaring his identity, the elder brother would have shouted at the top of his voice to the younger brother, saying: “Go back to where you came from, you wayward and reckless fool.” The prodigal son would then go and beg his uncles to come and beg his brother to open the door for him and give him some food.
The parable of the prodigal son has a happy ending as the son reconciles with his father. The essence of the season of lent is to reconcile with God the father. St. Paul advises the people of Corinth, “Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Obviously, the Prodigal Son represents us sinners and the father of the prodigal son represents God the Father and the elder brother represents self-righteous people who are constantly sit in judgment of others. The following lessons are what we can draw from the parable of the prodigal son:
• We should learn from Jesus who eats with sinners. His life and message tell us that friendship, more than hatred and exclusion, attract people to us.
• We must not squander our future, inheritance, life or strength recklessly.
• Let us never hesitate to return to God whose open arms to welcome us. We learn from God what unconditional love means. The “Prodigal son arose and came to his father and while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” One difficult question for parents is: will you forgive your child no matter the blunder or mistake he makes?
• This parable tells us, there is great joy in heaven when we leave our sinful ways and return to God. An old song, which the Irish missionaries taught us in the Seminary, rings a bell here. The song, written by Margaret Moody in 1892 has the following inspiring lyrics:
When a sinner comes, as a sinner may, There is joy, there is joy; When he turns to God in the gospel way, There is joy, there is joy.
There is joy among the angels, And their harps with music ring, When a sinner comes repenting, Bending low before the King.
4TH SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR C; Joshua 5:9a. 10-12; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11-32.
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