Wed, March 23, 202210 mins readFather Hans Buob

4th Sunday of Lent

Biblical Homilies on the Sunday Gospels in Reading Year C

Return of the Prodigal Son, by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, in the Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.

Bible passages


Luke 15:1-3.11-32

The tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were whispering among themselves. They said, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ Then Jesus told them a story. Jesus continued, ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger son spoke to his father. He said, “Father, give me my share of the family property.” So the father divided his property between his two sons. ‘Not long after that, the younger son packed up all he had. Then he left for a country far away. There he wasted his money on wild living. He spent everything he had. Then the whole country ran low on food. So the son didn’t have what he needed. He went to work for someone who lived in that country. That person sent the son to the fields to feed the pigs. The son wanted to fill his stomach with the food the pigs were eating. But no one gave him anything. ‘Then he began to think clearly again. He said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough food! But here I am dying from hunger! I will get up and go back to my father. I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven. And I have sinned against you. I am no longer fit to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.’ ” So he got up and went to his father. ‘While the son was still a long way off, his father saw him. He was filled with tender love for his son. He ran to him. He threw his arms around him and kissed him. ‘The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer fit to be called your son.” ‘But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattest calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. This son of mine was dead. And now he is alive again. He was lost. And now he is found.” So they began to celebrate. ‘The elder son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants. He asked him what was going on. “Your brother has come home,” the servant replied. “Your father has killed the fattest calf. He has done this because your brother is back safe and sound.” ‘The older brother became angry. He refused to go in. So his father went out and begged him. But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve worked like a slave for you. I have always obeyed your orders. You never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But this son of yours wasted your money with some prostitutes. Now he comes home. And for him you kill the fattest calf!” ‘ “My son”, the father said, “you are always with me. Everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad. This brother of yours was dead. And now he is alive again. He was lost. And now he is found.” ’

Biblical Homilies


“The tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were whispering among themselves. They said, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”( cf. verse 1-2)

The present Gospel is again a very well-known one. Jesus tells a parable to the Pharisees and scribes, who cannot understand that Jesus associates with sinners and tax collectors, in order to show them the mercy of God.

“Then Jesus told them a story. Jesus continued, ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger son spoke to his father. He said, “Father, give me my share of the family property.” So the father divided his property between his two sons.” (cf. verse 3.11-12)

There is a man with his two sons, who are of course both his children. In this respect, this parable is also about all of us, since we are all children of God. So let us listen carefully to what Jesus wants to tell us, to which type of child of God we belong, whether we are rather the younger or the elder son.

The younger one now goes to his father and asks him for his inheritance. In doing so, he is asking for something to which he was not entitled at all according to the law of that time, because he can only inherit when his father has died. Let's apply this directly to our situation: Now I stand before God like this and demand something that is not due to me, to which I have no right yet. But I demand as if I had a right to it, as if God had to do it, as if I knew: this is good for me. I don't ask: What is your will, Father? What is really good for me? but I simply demand. And this imperative, this demand, is the way that always leads down. We will find that again and again. God, the Father, divides. When someone wants to force God penetratingly, God often fulfils his wish, so that the person then recognises by the consequences how wrong he has prayed and repents. That is the meaning!

“‘Not long after that, the younger son packed up all he had. Then he left for a country far away. There he wasted his money on wild living. He spent everything he had. Then the whole country ran low on food. So the son didn’t have what he needed. He went to work for someone who lived in that country. That person sent the son to the fields to feed the pigs. The son wanted to fill his stomach with the food the pigs were eating. But no one gave him anything.“ (cf. verse 13-16)

This is what happens here in the parable. The father divides the property, gives the younger son his inheritance and lets him go. And the younger son goes away to a distant country, that is: He is no longer accessible to the father there. But what does that actually mean: to no longer be accessible to God? Perhaps a passage in the Secret Revelation will help us, where it says: "I feed the lukewarm out of my mouth. "Because you are neither hot nor cold..." God can reach the hot and the cold, but the lukewarm who think, "I'm already a Christian. What else can I do?" are no longer accessible to God. And is this attitude so strange to us? Let's think about it!

The younger son now leads a dissolute life in a foreign country and squanders the entire fortune. And then comes a famine. You can often observe that everything suddenly collapses for a person: suddenly you are ill, or someone dies, or you lose your job - suddenly all things collapse on you and you are faced with a ruin. But such a collapse is also an opportunity. Many people don't get to think until they have to experience a total collapse of everything. If he had had money, the son would still have been able to get something at the black market even during the famine, but he has nothing now. Now he is sent to herd pigs. We can't really get a picture of what this actually means for him: for the Jew, pigs are unclean animals and thus this person loses his most sacred thing, his belonging to the people, to the community of salvation. He is an outcast. That was the worst thing for a Jew. He is sent to herd pigs, which means: he has come down so far, to the pig trough, that he cannot go any further. And how many people have to get to the pig trough before God reaches them at all, if they don't despair there first, starve to death at the pig trough - figuratively speaking.

“‘Then he began to think clearly again. He said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough food! But here I am dying from hunger! I will get up and go back to my father. I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven. And I have sinned against you. I am no longer fit to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.’ ” So he got up and went to his father. ‘While the son was still a long way off, his father saw him.” (cf. verse 17-20a)

But the younger son does not starve to death at the pig trough. Three steps are now described, where we should consider whether we ourselves have already completed these three steps.

 First of all: He thinks about it. He goes into himself. That alone is difficult for today's man, to go into himself at all with all the noise. There must be something going on every day. You can't stand it on your own any more. You can't stand the silence anymore in order to come to yourself. But that is the first step: coming to oneself. So the son goes into himself and thinks: at his father's, the day labourers, the cheapest workers, have it incredibly good. They have bread in abundance and I, as a son, am starving. Translated, one could say: perhaps I had an experience with God earlier and thus had a meaning in life at that time, bread in abundance, so to speak. Now it's all gone and I can't get it back. But for many people, it is not so easy to admit that they have failed, that they have run away from God and made mistakes. Pride very often gets in the way. And even if you admit it, you are often not ready to go to the Father and say it and confess it, i.e. to go to confession, to repent.

And then comes the second step. He makes a resolution: I will set out and go to my Father and tell him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. So: I have gone into myself, have recognised my mistake and now take a second step: Yes, I will go to the Father. Perhaps we have already made such a resolution: I will go to confession next Saturday. I really want to repent. I want to start anew with God. But then the weather was too bad and I didn't go and said to myself: maybe next Saturday. And maybe I keep postponing this step until today. I have the resolution, but over time the grace dies again. I lose it again because I don't accept it.

The son has even memorised a beautiful little saying exactly word for word, which must soften every father who hears it: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be your son; make me one of your peons." For the son does not know how the father will react when he comes home. But we know how God will react. Jesus explains it to us. Now comes the third step. It may well be that I have often made resolutions. But the third step is, "Then he departed and went to his Father." That is the most important step. Now he goes. Now he makes up his mind and doesn't let anything or anyone stop him. In Catholic terms, now I turn back. I go to confession and ask God for forgiveness. I go to my father.

“He was filled with tender love for his son. He ran to him. He threw his arms around him and kissed him. ‘The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer fit to be called your son.” ‘But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattest calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. This son of mine was dead. And now he is alive again. He was lost. And now he is found.” So they began to celebrate.” (cf. verse 20b-24)

Now comes a change of scene: the father is described in a wonderful way. It is said that the father sees him coming from afar. So he must have been constantly on the lookout for him, constantly waiting for him. That is what God is like! God has always been waiting for me - always, in vain, perhaps for a very long time in vain - and now someone is coming.

But the one who comes is no longer the son as the father knew him, but rather a raggedy man who wears nothing but rags on his body, dirty and stinking of pig shit. But the father is not angry - he would have good reason to be - but it says wonderfully: "And he had compassion on him.

Compassion and mercy, that is the mercy of God, which no man will fathom for all eternity. And who starts running? The old father. It is he who runs to meet the Son, falls around his neck and - one can really say this figuratively - kisses him right into the pig's muck, i.e. into sin. The father takes it all upon himself, because when he comes together with his unclean son, he himself becomes unclean. He loses the holiest part of his life, his belonging to the people of salvation. And that is exactly what God has done for us in his Son. Jesus was, so to speak, expelled from his people. Outside the city he was crucified, despised by all. He did it for me. You can't make up a God like that! Such a God must reveal himself to us, as here in this Gospel. Such a God must be encountered.

The son is, of course, completely surprised that the father receives him like this and not with a riding whip and with scolding and reproaches. Thank God, the son has memorised a "poem" at the pig trough and now recites it to the father verbatim: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be your son." He leaves out the last sentence, "Make me one of your peons,". The father has embraced him, he has kissed him and he is still holding him in his arms when the son says that, and he sort of silences him: "I don't care about that at all. All that matters to me is that you are back." That is God!

So the father immediately turns to his servants: "Fetch the best robe quickly. - The son was only wearing rags - "Put it on him, put a ring on his hand". Although the son had squandered all his wealth and therefore had no rights, the father gives him the signet ring again, with which he can legally carry out business in the name of the father. This is unbelievable. Yes, the father even has the fatted calf slaughtered for his son, which was actually only fattened for the high feasts of the year. The return of the Son to the Father - if we go to confession and genuinely repent, then God slaughters the fatted calf, then that is the High Feast of the year with God. There is greater joy in heaven than over all the others who imagine they do not need repentance.

After all, they are celebrating a happy festival together, and there is nothing about the father whispering softly in his son's ear: "Where do you actually have my money? What have you done with it? What have you been up to?" No, the father doesn't ask him anything, he doesn't reproach him. He is just happy that the son is back. That's how God is! That is unimaginable.

“‘The elder son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants. He asked him what was going on. “Your brother has come home,” the servant replied. “Your father has killed the fattest calf. He has done this because your brother is back safe and sound.” ‘The older brother became angry. He refused to go in. So his father went out and begged him. But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve worked like a slave for you. I have always obeyed your orders. You never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But this son of yours wasted your money with some prostitutes. Now he comes home. And for him you kill the fattest calf!”” (cf. verse 25-30)

Perhaps we have already recognised ourselves to some extent in this son, but we should also listen to the second son, the one who has stayed at home. He comes from the field and hears music and dancing in broad daylight. Of course he is surprised and asks one of the servants what is going on. And after the servant tells him, what is the reaction of the good son? "He became angry and would not go in.

Now let us think again very carefully: Suppose we were the dear, good, stay-at-home son who served God faithfully: How do we react when such a "super-sinner" repents? On the high holidays - Christmas, Easter - or at weddings or funerals, people often come to church who otherwise don't even know where the church door is. How do we react when we see such people in church who don't know how to behave at all and feel quite strange? How do I react on Christmas Eve when I come to church and there is already someone sitting in my regular seat, someone who only comes once a year; and I now have to stand for the whole mass? How do I react? How does the good son or daughter who stayed at home react? Can I also say of them: "He got angry and didn't want to go in!"? Do I say to myself: "Then I'll go again. I'm not going to the church that he's going into!"? Or can I rejoice that the person has entered the church because of these circumstances? Can I then really ask the Lord with joy: "Lord, now he is here. Now you can meet him through your word. Now you can address him. I ask you for your grace and for your mercy"?

But the father is the same to everyone. The same thing happens as with the younger son. He comes out and hurries to meet him, just as he did to the younger son. And he talks to him. But the "good" son strongly reproaches his father: he has served him for so long and always acted according to his will, but the father has never praised him for it or even rewarded him with a small feast. "But no sooner has this one come, your son, who has carried off your fortune with harlots...". He no longer even calls him his brother, so "Christian" is he, so despised is he. Unfortunately, it happens again and again that the "good" ones really hang the mistakes of the others on the big bell and spread them out with relish: "Have you already heard...? Do you already know what he has done?" etc. ... Let's check our hearts!

 So the elder son neither called his father father, nor did he call his brother brother. And it may be that he really has always fulfilled the will of the father, but he has never done the most important thing - this text shows that quite clearly here - namely: he has not loved the father. He doesn't even call him father anymore. That's how far away he is from him, further than the prodigal son.

“‘ “My son”, the father said, “you are always with me. Everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad. This brother of yours was dead. And now he is alive again. He was lost. And now he is found.” ’“ (cf. verse 31-32)

The father now gives him an answer. And he accepts him completely again and says: "My child." My son. "You are always with me and all that is mine is yours." In other words, "You could always have slaughtered the fatted calf with your friends." It is a sorrow to the father that the son wanted nothing of his goods, that he could not give him joy.

We too must ask ourselves again: How is the Father, how is God with me? The stable is filled with the sacraments, with all the graces offered by the Church. And what do we make use of? When a "new convert" comes, goes to church every day and communicates and confesses every week, what do we say? He's crazy! But this new convert claims the fatted calf. He slaughters the fatted calf - and the father rejoices! The good, kind, good son saves. He wants nothing from God, once a year at most. The father says to us, "All that is mine is yours." "Why didn't you take anything? It belonged to you as much as it belonged to me, and I would have been happy if you had slaughtered the fatted calf, if you had celebrated a feast, if I had been allowed to give you something for once."

 Then he says, "But now we must rejoice and have a feast; for your brother was dead and is alive again; he was lost and has been found." That is the end of the parable. So now I have to decide for myself: Do I go into the Father's house or not? Do I accept this feast, also as a feast for me? Do I accept that the fatted calf has also been slaughtered for me, if I now return and call the Father Father? That is a very decisive question, especially during Lent: Am I going to my Father's house? ∎