God's Prodigal, Extravagent Love: 4th Sunday by Sr. Catherine Cleary

GOSPEL (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32) ( Ist  Reading Joshua 5:9a, 10-12;  2nd Reading 2 Cor 5:17-21)

Webster’s definition of PRODIGAL: To drive away, squander, recklessly extravagant, wasteful expenditure, lavish, yielding abundantly

This Gospel challenges us to align our lives with each of the three persons in Luke’s passage, the Father, the runaway son and the stay at home son.

Before we meet the three main characters in today’s Gospel, we might do well to look at who the audience who Jesus is addressing: tax collectors and sinners, Pharisees and scribes who complain about Jesus hanging out with sinners.

Everyone loves a story because he or she can identify with one or more of the characters or with the situation. Jesus tells this parable to remind his listeners and us that God was a God of great compassion. He is a prodigal Father who lavishes his love on those who seem not to deserve it. The story Jesus is about to tell had to be quite a shock to the listeners. He presents us with an image of God who is extravagant with His love, who appears to love recklessly, to love those who least deserve it, to forgive sinners and then celebrate with them at a huge banquet.

We realize the father in the story is God, the inheritance is salvation. We can take our pick: are we the “prodigal child” who squanders our lives on pleasures, happiness, selfish decisions, whose childish dreams end up shattered and spiritually bankrupt? Being “Christians” in name do we like the younger son say, “Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me,” assuming baptism is all that is necessary for heaven?

Or are we the child who believes we can earn salvation by the good works we do? Are we like the older son and like the Pharisees who think God owes us something? Do we believe salvation is ours, if we work for it?  Do we believe it can be earned?  “All these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet never once did you give me a young goat to feast on with my friends. After all, we have kept all the commandments.” (All except the important one of forgiveness and loving our neighbor.) Are we the child who out of anger, refuses to go to the banquet for our sibling?

Ordinarily, we call this Gospel the parable of the Prodigal Son. But Scripture scholar Carroll Stuhlmueller focuses our attention on the Father whom he calls the Prodigal Father, the forgiving and gracious Father.   Meditating on this Gospel we can understand the title and meditating on our lives, we experience God’s prodigal, extravagant love.

Who in the story do I identify with?

Knowing I have sinned against God, taken Him for granted, used his gifts without gratitude, do I humbly ask God for forgiveness as the younger son did?

Have I envy of another who receives attention which I think I deserve? Am I like the older brother refusing to rejoice because the “Sinner” has come back home?

In prayer, I will ponder the extravagant love the Father has for me. I will ask for the grace to love like the Father, trying to become compassionate, extravagant and prodigal enough to forgive no matter what the hurt.

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