Fourth Sunday of Lent

Rembrandt painting of the Prodigal Son coming back to his father

Daily Offering

Bless this day, Lord Jesus. May all I think or do or say be in your Holy Name.     Tony Nye SJ

Entering into prayer

Choose a way to enter into prayer from earlier in Lent or any method that you prefer. 

Today's Scripture (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32)
Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.

‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” ’

Food for Thought

Today’s Gospel might best be described as the parable of the generous father and his two lost sons. A son who left home and returned and another son who was always “at home” – or was he?

The father divides his property equally between the two sons, keeping nothing for himself – literally: “he divided his life between them.” The father represents God’s boundless grace, and the two sons embody the different attitudes that prevent us from experiencing God’s abundance.

The younger son is lost in his wasteful lifestyle, and the older son is lost in self-righteousness.

The younger son thinks of himself as a servant, a sinner, who can never again be accepted as a son. He makes the first move, turning around and moving toward the father. That’s all he needed to do. The father’s joy in response creates a scene of overwhelming love and forgiveness. Though the son seems identified with the stigma of his sin, the fine robe, the ring, the sandals and the feast all proclaim the lost sinner as the father’s true son.

The older son has been “out in the field.” But the father who ran towards one lost son now comes out after the other lost son. The older son complains, “All these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders.” He doesn’t see himself as a son but as his father’s servant who obeys his commands. Rather than living the joyful life of a beloved son, he has become a self-pitying victim, filled with bitter resentment.

Suggestions for prayer

As you read the parable, is there a phrase that speaks directly to you? Place yourself in the situation of each son, and consider how you respond to the generous love of the father.

Jesus’ parable addresses two groups mentioned at the start. The tax collectors and sinners are mirrored in the attitude of the younger son. The Pharisees and scribes are mirrored in the mind-set of the older son. Yet the parable is addressed to us all. We are all lost children who have been found by our Father. Do we have a slave mentality that deprives us of joy in our Father’s presence? Do we identify ourselves with our past sins and so are unable to accept that we are really sons and daughters, or do we follow orders with obedience and can’t believe that the Father’s love is unmerited and free?

What prevents you from experiencing and celebrating the abundant love of God? To experience the Father’s forgiveness, all we have to do is turn back in the direction of God. We never have to crawl back or make up for our past. When we turn back, God’s love meets us more than halfway.

How are you going to respond today?

In what way does God want you to turn back to him this Lent? Imagine the ecstatic joy of the father who spotted his son walking towards him. Place yourself in that scene and savour God’s wildly joyful love for you.

Image for the Day

Prodigal Son in the Father's embrace, the other son stands to one side

  • What do you see in this image? How does it make you feel?
  • Does this parable help your image of God, or is it a hindrance? Talk to Jesus about that.

Examen (review of prayer)

When you come towards the end of your time of prayer, or at the end of your day, talk to God about what has come up for you, what went well and what didn’t.

Going Deeper

Examen from St Beuno's

The eight works of mercy

Imaginative Contemplation Exercises