Let God be God
In this fourth Sunday of Lent, the Word of God gives us very basic insights on the way God works wonders in our lives. The focus of the three readings today is the assurance that God's promises are fulfilled.
We read in the first reading: "Today I have taken the shame of Egypt away from you". Paul: "In Christ there is a new creation". But the peak is reached in the Gospel. God's way of showing His infinite and unconditional love and mercy is disturbing. It was disturbing at the time of Jesus and it is still disturbing today when we try hard to come to terms with the marvellous way God works in the lives of people.
Just as Jesus' friendship with tax collectors and sinners provokes the anger of the Pharisees and the scribes, so in today's parable, the homecoming of the younger brother provokes the anger of his brother.
This parable can be a very powerful metaphor for our times. Western Christianity is today characterised by 'believing without belonging'. Many people confess that they still believe in God, in Jesus Christ, in the Bible; but they feel no need to be bound to a Church. Naturally our concern here would be to do something to bring these people back to the fold.
Today's Gospel gives some new insights on this situation. We as Church many a time give in to the tempting culture of our time to be a 'doing' Church. We always want to do something, we are activists, our parishes and communities are topped up with heavy organisation. And in all this we fail to grasp the simple message that transpires from the Gospel today: that in the right order of priorities the 'being' comes before the 'doing'. The two sons in today's parable show precisely this. God's mercy is there. It is shown unconditionally. But we are many a time disconnected from God and between ourselves. The two sons were in the same house and under the same roof. They lived with their father. But instead of preferring to be at home with a father of love and mercy, they wanted to 'have' their share of the estate.
Our craving 'to have' destroys our real identity as free persons. As in the case of the younger of the two sons, the next step after receiving his share was to collect his belongings and leave for a distant country. Our greed does not make us possess what we have, but we become possessed by our very belongings.
This creates a pattern that makes us stray away from the father's house, from where we belong. We become estranged. But the experience of the eldest brother shows also that estrangement is possible even while staying home. We can easily be insiders and at the same time very distant from what gives us real belonging. The elder of the two sons lived with his father. But he had no idea who his father was.
Two different experiences that make us focus on what is, at the end of the day, the one necessary and most important thing: God's mercy. God is merciful not because, or if, we deserve it; we receive God's mercy only if we open up to it. So it does not depend on merit but on disposition.
We are not given any clue as to the ending of the story. Because the true ending is in what the responsorial psalm says: "Taste and see that the Lord is good." What brought about the homecoming of the lost son was the deep experience he went through and the simple fact that he listened to his own heart's deepest longing. What estranged completely his elder brother was, on the other hand, the anger and jealousy towards his brother that made him close in upon himself and his own interests.