Love your enemies and do good to them; lend and expect nothing back. You will then have a great reward, and you will be children of the Most High God. For he is good to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful just as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:35-36).
The story of the prodigal son confirms Jesus’ words that there is great rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner. The joyful and lavish banquet prepared by the father to celebrate his son’s return is a symbol of the heavenly banquet, in Cardijn’s words, our divine destiny. In this story, the older son cuts himself off from the banquet. Unable to forgive like his father, he chooses to stay outside in his own private hell. May we know the joy of forgiveness and the joy of forgiving.
Acknowledgement of Country
I’d like to begin by acknowledging the _________ people, the traditional custodians of the land on which we are gathered. To acknowledge our gratitude that we share this land today, our sorrow for the costs of that sharing, and our hope that we can move to a place of justice and partnership together.
Please fill us with your spirit of love.
Help us to see the world as you do,
to judge with your heart, and to act with
the strength and courage you have shown us
as we work to transform our world.
Reflecting on Action(s)
Before commencing the Gospel reading, recall the action(s) decided upon at the previous meeting.
- Was/Were the action(s) carried out? Why? / Why not?
- What has happened because of the action(s)?
- Which aspects of the action(s) have you accepted as signs of God’s presence in the situation or event you have been reflecting and acting on?
- What do you feel as you reflect on your part in the action(s)?
Once you have reflected on the action(s) you had committed yourself to doing, then move on the Gospel reading for this meeting. Do so with the hope that you will learn more about the situation you have chosen to reflect and act on during Lent and how to see, judge and act as God intends for every person.
Read the Gospel aloud in the group and then read it again individually and silently.
The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and the scribes complained, “This man,” they said, “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he spoke this parable to them:
“A man had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, let me have the share of the estate that would come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. A few days later, the younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country, where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery.
“When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine and now he began to feel the pinch, so he hired himself out to one of the local inhabitants who put him on his farm to feed the pigs. And he would willingly have filled his belly with the husks the pigs were eating but no one offered him anything. Then he came to his senses and said, ‘How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants.”’ So he left the place and went back to his father.
“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. Then his son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your Son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening and kill it; we are going to have a feast, a celebration, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing. Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about. ‘Your brother has come,’ replied the servant, ‘and your father has killed the calf we had fattened because he has got him back safe and sound.’ He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out to plead with him; but he answered his father, ‘Look, all these years I slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. But for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property – he and his women – you kill the calf we have been fattening.’
“The father said, ‘My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it is only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found’” (Luke 15:1-3, 15-32).
Did you know?
The father in this story owns an estate and has three types of servants. The first, known as a bondman, was considered to be very much a part the family, even though he was in reality a slave. The second type was a servant who was subordinate to the bondman, yet also considered to be a part of the family. The third type was a hired servant, who gained employment on a daily basis and could be dismissed on a whim. Such servants had no rights.
- Focus on the facts of the story. This includes the context, which can be found Luke 15:1-3, the opening part of the reading being reviewed. Why is Jesus criticised by the Pharisees and the scribes? What does the story Jesus tells reveal about his mission? How is this related to the situation or event you have been reflecting and acting on for the past three weeks?
- When Jesus tells stories (parables), he wants people to recognise through the stories how God wants to relate with people. In this story, who do the characters (the young son, his older brother and their father) represent? How are the three characters related to the situation or event you are reflecting and acting on during Lent?
- Jesus describes the actions of each character. Make lists of the actions of each character: the father, his younger son, his older son. What do their actions reveal about each of them? Define their qualities.
- Return to the opening part of the reading and make some judgment about the relationships between the groups of people Jesus addresses and the characters in the story. Try to place the groups in the situation or event you have been reflecting on during the past three weeks. Decide for yourself, which group you belong to and try to feel what they feel when they hear the story.
In this part of our reflection, we focus on the intersection of the Gospel story with our own life story. We seek to be enlightened and to gain direction for our own life in all dimensions. Here are some questions to consider in your group:
- In the SEE stage of the Enquiry, you made lists of the qualities of the Father, the young son and his older sibling. Our faith tells us that we are created in God’s image and likeness. Decide which qualities are positive, that is, they reflect God in whose image we are created; and which qualities are negative, that is, they do not reflect God.
- Jesus tells his listeners how they can reflect God in their lives. Regarding the situation or event you have been reflecting on these past three weeks, what attitudes and qualities are needed so that God is given praise and glory?
- Pope St John Paul II describes the young son as “every human being: bewitched by the temptation to separate himself from his Father in order to lead his own independent existence disappointed by the emptiness of the mirage which had fascinated him; alone, dishonoured, exploited when he tries to build a world all for himself; sorely tried, even in the depths of his own misery, by the desire to return to communion with his Father” (Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 1984, #5). Discuss how these characteristics are reflected in the situation or event you have been reflecting on.
- Of the older son, he writes: “Selfishness makes him jealous, hardens his heart, blinds him and shuts him off from other people and from God. The loving kindness and mercy of the father irritate and enrage him; for him the happiness of the brother who has been found again has a bitter taste” (Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, #6). Look for the positive and negative signs of the interaction between the father and his eldest son in the situation or event you have been reflecting on for the past three weeks.
In this stage of the Gospel Enquiry, we look for something to do that is small and achievable and that contributes to a much greater change, that is, the transformation of ourselves into followers of Christ Jesus and the transformation of the world. The following questions are offered as a guide in this stage:
- Review the action(s) you have taken over the past three weeks. Decide in your group the degree to what the action(s) reflects the positive characteristics found in the story Jesus tells about the forgiving father.
- Choose a “divine” quality to focus on through prayer, reflection and action during the coming week, so that the signs of God’s presence in the situation or event you have been acting on will be more easily recognised.
- Make a commitment to your group to focus on that quality and to report back to the group at the commencement of the next meeting.
- Finally, share your reflections on how you have found this meeting. You might like to return to the method introduced in the reflection for the Second Sunday in Lent: Use one word to sum up a positive aspect of the meeting. Use one word to sum up a negative aspect of the meeting. Use one word to sum up that aspect of the meeting that has challenged you, or caused you to think more deeply about your relationship with Jesus.
teach me to be generous,
to serve you as you deserve to be served,
to give without counting the cost,
to fight without counting the wounds,
to work without seeking rest,
and to spend my life without expecting any other return
than the knowledge that I do your holy will.