The following Homily was delivered on the Readings of the Fourth Sunday of Lent, and principally based on the Gospel Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Do not be satisfied with being the grumbling older brother… In other words. Jesus challenged the Pharisees. The Pharisees were grumbling at Jesus who spent time dining with sinners, with fallen away Jews, with non-practicing Jews, with the “nones.” To Jesus, they were not just sinners, they were not just outcasts, they were not just non-practicing. They were brothers.
The dynamic of brotherhood played out in Israel at this time. Jesus implicates for being the critical older brother. Jesus implicates them for putting the status quo before compassion. Jesus implicates them for being so proud of their religion that they have no mercy for someone who does not measure up. Think about it. Why is there no happily ever after here? I mean, why can’t this parable end with a happy feast welcoming home the Son? Why insert this critical wet blanket of a brother throwing a fit? Jesus is challenging the Pharisees. In some way it would have been significant for them, as the Southern Israelites branded the Northern Kingdom as traitors to the way of God, as “Prodigal Sons” so to speak.
Yet, the popularity of the parable is not because of this challenge, but because of the comfort. What has made this parable so memorable has always been the display of mercy, compassion, and generosity of God to the Son who does not deserve it. Yet Jesus spoke this parable to Pharisees, not to sinners.
Maybe that is why it is popular, because everyone wants to be the Prodigal Son. Everyone wants to be the excuse for the party. Everyone wants to be the guy who is in the Father’s embrace. Everyone wants to get first dibs on the fatted calf.
Nobody wants to be the wet blanket of a grumbling older brother. It is easier to point fingers in our families. Maybe we can think of someone who is jaded, or cynical, or whiny, or bitter. Maybe we can think of someone who has fallen away from the faith. Maybe we can think of someone who will not affiliate themselves to a religion, or to the Catholic faith of their upbringing. That is a “none” as in those who identify no religion. It is easier to be a grumbling Prodigal Son’s older brother, by being conscientious of the shortcomings of others, and in effect becoming the jaded, cynical, whiny, and bitter by pretending that it is somebody else.
Jesus makes it clear that the older brother lacks nothing of God’s blessings. We, like the older brother. lack nothing of God’s over abundant grace and love. We, like the older brother, are here on Sundays. We, like the older brother can boast. We like the older brother, therefore are in danger. We, like the older brother, are in danger of missing an opportunity be giving. We like the older brother are tempted to pride in our religion. We, like the older brother, can be unwelcoming to sinners, to non-practicing family members, fallen away Catholics, and the “nones.”
It is the year of faith. When the year of faith began last year, we were invited to deepen our faith. We were invited to renew our discipleship, whether that be more conscientious participation in Mass, personal or communal scripture readings, catechism study, but most significantly a real relationship with Christ, a real relationship with our Father in heaven. In this year of faith, we also have the opportunity to invite others to that relationship. As the Father of the parable welcomes home the son, we have an opportunity to welcome those fallen away, unaffiliated, non-practicing Catholics, the nones.
Would it be enough for us to be here? Would it be enough for us to have our cute little thing with Jesus? Would it be enough for us to praise God alone? Rather, would not it be enough for us to rejoice and thanksgiving without those we love and have fallen away… Rather would it be that our community is complete when we come together for communion in praise and thanksgiving. Rather, would it be that all be gathered as one, even the Prodigal sons and daughters, Prodigal Cousins, Prodigal brothers and sisters, prodigal parents.
It does not diminish the feast to invite more. It does not deplete or take away our portion of the fatted calf to share with others. It does not take away room at the table, the pews in this church, or the Father’s embrace to include others. So let our conversion and penance be real that we never falter as the grumbling older brother. Let our Lenten commitments bring us closer to the Father, and likewise bring our Prodigal loved ones closer to the Father. Let our mission in this year of faith be to include others. Let our participation in this New Evangelization always, and at all times be for God’s love.