By Deacon Mike Snyder
The Catholic Messenger
Lent is a season of opportunity for significant growth in our faith and relationship with God. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the primary ways we may strive to improve our relationship with God and prepare for Easter. The Lenten Gospel readings remind us what is important in this relationship, and the Gospel for the fourth Sunday is pivotal in our journey to prepare for Easter.
The Gospel on the First Sunday of Lent is about Jesus’ temptation in the desert. Jesus is fully human as well as fully God, and gives us hope of overcoming temptation, with his help. In contrast to the desert fasting, the Gospel on the second Sunday shows Jesus radiant in glory in the Transfiguration. The Father tells us, along with Peter, John and James, to listen to his Son. In the Gospel last Sunday, Jesus tells the parable about the fig tree which bears no fruit. Like the gardener cares for the fig tree and knows it sometimes takes years for a tree to bear fruit, God cares for us, watches our heart and anticipates a change in us that will bear fruit.
The Gospel on the fourth Sunday includes Jesus’ parable about the prodigal son. Most of us are familiar with the parable, but don’t let the comfort of recognition stop you from probing for the meaning of this parable and how it applies to you.
The younger son, who was selfish and impatient to get his share of his inheritance, later realized his sin and repented. It is interesting that Jesus tells us that the young man realized his sin was against both his father and against heaven. He was truly repentant; he rehearsed his confession to his father.
The father must have waited, and watched for his son to return, because he saw him while he was still a long way off. He was filled with compassion and ran to him! When his son confessed his sins, the father did not hesitate. He did not lecture or make sure the son had fully learned his lesson; he didn’t even let him finish his words of contrition. His first reaction was to order the servants to quickly bring the finest robe, a ring and sandals, which signify the young man is a son of the family. The father did not lament about his son’s sins, he did not demand conditions; he initiated the celebration of his son’s return. The love of the father is limitless and he offered his repentant child the gift of unconditional reconciliation.
The older son was angry and jealous of the celebration of the return of his younger brother; he refused to enter the house and join the celebration. Again, the father reacts with compassion and unconditional love: My son, you are with me always; everything I have is yours.
You may identify with either the younger or older son, but the primary message of the parable is about the loving father, who symbolizes our heavenly Father, and the love God has for us.
Jesus tells this parable in response to the Pharisees and Scribes’ complaint that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” The meaning of his answer is that nobody is outside the limits of God’s mercy. As you pray and fast this Lent, and give to others in need, be confident that God has endless mercy and will forgive us.
In the second reading this Sunday, Paul implores us to be reconciled with God. We are not only called to personal reconciliation, but also to be ambassadors of this reconciliation to the world. God waits and watches for each of us to repent. We are now halfway through our Lenten journey. How is your reconciliation so far with God and with others? This week, reflect on other areas and ways you may seek reconciliation with God.
(Deacon Mike Snyder is a deacon at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf.)