The theme that permeates the Readings of this Sunday is ‘Reconciliation’. This theme which is implicit in the first Reading, is explicit in the second Reading and the Gospel. The return of the people of Israel to the land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua after over two hundred years of sojourn in Egypt was a form of reconciliation with the land. This reconciliation was cemented in the Israelites eating from the produce of the land. (Jos 5:9-12).

In the second Reading, (2 Cor 5:17-21), St Paul stated that in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself not holding people’s sins against them. Thus, in Christ, our old self of sin is subsumed in our new self of grace. We are therefore ambassadors of Christ, entrusted with the task of making the Good News of Christ’s reconciliation known to everyone.

The Gospel, (Lk 15:1-3,11-32), is traditionally known as the parable of the prodigal son. The background to the parable was that the “tax collectors and sinners” were attracted to the message of hope and reconciliation preached by Jesus, such that a considerable number of them came to listen to him and interact with him. We recall that Jesus had included Matthew, a tax collector, among his apostles, and he had declared that it was the sick who needed the doctor not the healthy, (Mk 2:17), and that he came not to call the virtuous but sinners, (Lk 5:32). The Scribes and Pharisees were appalled at Jesus mingling with “tax collectors and sinners”, hence, he responded to their complaint with the parable of the prodigal son.

Per the parable, a man had two sons, the younger demanded from his dad the estate that would have gone to him when his father died. In doing so, he wished his father were dead which was an evil thought. Secondly, in demanding that their father shared his estate between him and his elder brother, he usurped the right which belonged to his elder brother as the first-born. To underscore the gravity of what the second son did, imagine as a parent, one of your children saying to you, “I want you to hand over to me right now whatever you have willed to me, I do not care how much longer you may live; you must give it to me right now!” I believe this would be a big shock to any parent and may trigger resentment from his siblings.

The father gave the younger son his share of the estate, and he sold it and left for a distant country where he squandered the money in licentious living. Once his money ran out, he learnt the hard way that all that glitters may not be gold. He realised too late that the freedom he sought for must go with responsibility and that those he thought were his bosom friends were mere ravenous wolves.

Once money and friends were gone, he tried to make ends meet by hiring himself out to a local farmer who sent him to work in his piggery. As he worked with an empty stomach, he came to his senses! He recalled that his father’s paid servants had more dignity than he now has, hence, he decided to go back to his father to admit his wrong doing and ask for forgiveness. A true sign of contrition is the willingness to acknowledge and confess the sin, and a firm resolve not to re-offend.

When he reached his hometown, before he got to his father’s property, he was amazed that his father ran and met him on the way. His father clasped him and kissed him because he knew that his son was dead but had come back to life, he was lost but has now been found. Anyone who is in serious sin is considered spiritually dead. The prodigal son acknowledged his guilt by saying to his father, “father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.” Every sin we commit also effects our relationship with God, (Ps 51:4), which explains the younger son’s acknowledgement that he had sinned against heaven and against his father.
Though the prodigal son’s father was deeply disgusted with his behaviour, however, he was willing to give his now repentant son a second chance by restoring his sonship. He did this by ordering a new robe be put on him and a ring on his finger. He also organised a lavish banquet in his honour to celebrate his conversion. St Monica, the mother of St Augustine would have thrown such a banquet if she had the means to celebrate the conversion of her son, St Augustine.

When the elder son came back from working in the fields and heard that his younger brother had come back and their father had organised a banquet to welcome him, because he had become repentant, he became angry and refused to join in the celebration. I acknowledge that people do go through hurt and trauma because of the injustices or bullying or other forms of abuse meted on them. The deeper the hurt, the longer it may take to heal.

However, God always gives us a second chance so we are invited to dispose our hearts to forgive, especially when the offender is truly repentant. The father of the two sons came out and pleaded with the elder son to give his brother a second chance because he was remorseful of his bad behaviour. The elder son was so angry with his younger brother that he had severed the sibling tie between them. He referred to his brother in his conversation with their father as “this son of yours”.

The father assured the elder son that his place in the family was not in dispute, but evil must always be condemned and the good acknowledged; hence, the need to celebrate because his brother who was dead has come back to life and who was lost has been found.

May the Lord always find us when we are lost! And may our Lenten observances dispose our hearts to true repentance. Amen.

Fr. Chinua Okeke CSSp

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