Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

Posté par diaconos le 6 mars 2021

Your brother here was dead, and he came back to life

enfant prodigue

# According to Jacques Ellul, this parable told by Christ also concerns, first and foremost, the eldest son, just as much as the prodigal son. In fact, it is also a questioning addressed to the Pharisees, close observers of the Law, questioning them about their harsh, legalistic relationship towards the lost sheep who stray from it. Between the 5th and 8th centuries, the parable of the Prodigal Son was used by several theologians, including St Peter the Chrysologist, to designate the two sons of the father, the elder son, symbolising Judaism, who remained closely attached to the house, and the younger son, the Church, destined to call all sinful men with mercy to return to the love of God, their father, as this divine love was revealed and manifested by Jesus, our mediator to God.

Pope Benedict XVI, following a whole patristic, theological and magisterial trend, identified the father in the parable with God, the eternal father. For this reason, the relationship with Him is built up through history, in a similar way to what happens to every child with its parents.


From the Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke

At that time, publicans and sinners all came to Jesus to listen to him. The Pharisees and scribes rebuked him, saying, « This man welcomes sinners and eats with them. « Then Jesus told them this parable: « A man had two sons. The younger one said to his father, « Father, give me my share of the wealth that is mine. » And the father divided his goods among them. A few days later, the younger son gathered up everything he had and left for a faraway country where he squandered his fortune leading a life of disorder.

He had spent it all, when a great famine came to this country, and he began to find himself in need. He went to enlist the help of a local man, who sent him to his fields to tend the pigs. He would have liked to fill his belly with the pods that the pigs ate, but nobody gave him anything. So he went back to himself and said to himself, « How many of my father’s workers have plenty of bread, and here I am starving !

I will arise and go to my father and say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your workers. » And he got up and went to his father. While he was still far away, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and threw himself on his neck and covered him with kisses. The son said to him, « Father, I have sinned against heaven and against thee.

I am no longer worthy to be called your son. » But the father said to his servants : « Quickly, bring the best robe to clothe him, put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet, fetch the fatted calf, kill it, let us eat and feast, for this my son was dead, and has come back to life; he was lost, and is found. »

And they began to feast. Now the elder son was in the field. And when he returned and was near the house, he heard music and dancing. Calling one of the servants, he inquired what was going on. He answered, « Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has found your brother in good health. » Then the elder son became angry and refused to enter.

His father went out to beg him, but he replied to his father : « It has been so many years that I have been in your service without ever transgressing your orders, and you have never given me a kid to feast on with my friends. But when this son of yours came back after devouring your property with prostitutes, you had the fattened calf killed for him! » The father replied: « You, my child, are always with me, and everything that is mine is yours. It was necessary to feast and rejoice; for this thy brother was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and is found ! »  (Lk 15, 1-3.11-32)

Parable of the prodigal son

One man had two sons. The youngest son asked for his share of the inheritance and went to a faraway country, where he spent everything he had received, living in debauchery.  There was a famine; he ran out of everything. He became attached to a stranger, who employed him to keep swine, and did not even give him pods, on which the swine fed… He returned to himself, compared his position to that of his father’s mercenaries, and decided to go to his father and confess his guilt and unworthiness to him.

He got up and went back to his father. When he saw him coming from afar, he ran to meet him, threw himself on his neck and kissed him. The son confessed his sin. The father ordered his servants to bring what was needed to clothe his son and to prepare a feast in his honour. They began to rejoice. The eldest son, returning from the fields, heard the noise of the feast and asked a servant for an explanation. The servant told him that his brother had returned and that the feast had been ordered by his father.

He became angry and refused to come in. His father went out and begged him to come in. He reminded him of the long services he had rendered him, and complained that he had never received the smallest reward from him, while on the return of my debauched brother you killed the fattened calf. His father replied that his reward was to stay with him and to dispose of all his father’s possessions as he wished; that he had to have a feast and give himself over to joy, since his brother who had died came back to life …

Several Fathers of the Church saw in the eldest the Jewish people and in the youngest the pagans. The theologians of the Tubingue school were quick to grasp this interpretation, to support their ideas on the late period of the writing of the Gospels and on the tendencies they attributed especially to Luke’s.

The younger one was exposed to the seductions of the world. According to Mosaic law, the part of the property that was to be inherited by the younger son was half of what the elder son was entitled to, i.e. one third of the father’s estate. He asked his father to give him, in advance, the equivalent of this third in money. The father divided the two, gave the younger son his share and kept the elder son’s share for himself.

The father had no obligation to make this division; he could have refused to do so and thus forced his son to stay with him. He did not do so, because this constraint would not have changed the son’s feelings in any way. God likewise respects our freedom and leaves us all our responsibility; for he knows that trust and love must be free. It is through the experiences of life, so well described in this story, that man is brought back to God. No other means would suffice.

This was the aim of the youngest son in asking for his share of goods. Lack of love for his father, passion for independence, made the discipline of the father’s house intolerable and took away any sense of happiness he might have enjoyed there. Impatient to possess his freedom, he left a few days later without thinking of the grief he had caused his father. The distant country he went to is the image of the state of the man without God. Remoteness from God is the essence of sin.

His story is that of a crowd of young sons of a family who, living in dissolution, quickly manage to dissipate their fortune. Figuratively speaking, it is the story of the man without God, who sees himself through bitter disappointment, disgust, remorse, and the imaginary happiness he was asking for from the more or less coarse pleasures of the world. When, after having grazed the pigs all day long, he brought them back to the house in the evening, they were then fed pods; but to him, no one gave them to him.

The contempt shown to him by forgetting him in this way, the hunger that devoured him and which nothing could alleviate, was the last degree of debasement, of a suffering to which nothing could be added. Having thus returned to himself, this was the first step towards recovery. Until then, he had lived outside himself, carried along by the whirlwind of passions, of the outside world. But he came back to himself; he saw all the horror of his situation and discovered an abyss of evil in his heart.

In spite of his troubled conscience and his sense of unworthiness, he called his father, whom he offended. To make the sinner feel that he has lost all his titles to be a child of God is the effect of true repentance, but repentance inspires the desire to return in grace to God, to be admitted to his family, even if it is in the last place.

His father was waiting for him, his tenderness was waiting to surprise the return of his child. Then he ran towards his child, he facilitated this still dreaded meeting ; finally, he pressed him on his heart, moved with compassion, gave him, without words, that kiss of reconciliation which erased for ever all the past and made the son’s heart penetrate the assurance of his father’s unaltered love.

A ring on his finger and shoes or sandals on his feet were the sign of a free man; slaves went barefoot. The son’s rehabilitation was complete; he received forgiveness for his faults free of charge and immediately, without conditions or delays; he was reintegrated into the house and into the love of his father as if nothing had happened.

Death and loss is the moral state of every person who does not live in God: « Therefore it is said, ‘Awake, you who sleep, rise from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you. « (Eph 5:14) God alone is the source of life and the supreme destination of every intelligent being. To return to God is therefore to return to life and to find his eternal destination.

In this parable Jesus described sin and its bitter consequences, repentance and the ineffable happiness of reconciliation with God, but he did not present himself as the mediator of this reconciliation. In other statements he clearly indicated the work of redemption, which alone will enable every person to return to God in grace and receive the spirit of adoption : « For this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. « (Mt 26, 28)

For the eldest son, being in his father’s house was not a happiness, but a service. He boasted that he had never violated his father’s commandments. Finally, as if he did not have the enjoyment of his father’s entire house, he reproached his father for never having given him a reward, not even a kid, which was little compared to the fatted calf. The reward of the child of God is the happiness of his father’s fellowship : « After these events, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ‘Do not fear, Abram! I am a shield for you. Your reward will be very great. « (Gen 15, 1).

Deacon Michel Houyoux

Links to other Christian websites

◊ Homily :  click here to read the paper →  Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

◊ St Mary Magdalen (Parish)  :  click here to read the paper →  Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

  Saturday of the Second Week of Lent Reflection

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