Chapter Talk – Fourth Sunday of Lent – March 27, 2022, cycle-C
There is no Christianity without love and forgiveness! There is no true Christian love that does not include mercy and forgiveness. In the gospel parable of the so called ‘Prodigal Son’, Jesus reveals the nature of God as unconditional love and compassion. And this revelation is what he incarnated in his life, death, and resurrection…He continues to incarnate this love now, within our hearts as they are converted, meaning changed, to being opened wider than wide!
Along with the title ‘The Prodigal Son’, this parable has been given several other titles by scripture scholars. The one that Pope Benedict XVI seems to side with is the title “Parable of the Two Brothers” (Jesus of Nazareth, p.202). It has also been titled the ‘Parable of the Prodigal Father’. It seems to me that these titles give a different emphasis to the parable and as well help us to receive the depth and expansive meaning Jesus is attempting to communicate. He is using the parable to instruct the upholders of the law, the Pharisees and scribes who are accusing Jesus of siding with ‘tax collectors and sinners’. It is evident that these law-abiding teachers are attempting to find things against Jesus and are not coming with an open heart, a heart ready to be taught and changed.
There is a profound statement by Pope Benedict who is reflecting on what the parables that Jesus teaches with are asking from us…of how they are attempting to reach our hearts and minds so that we will find the freedom and love we all are seeking. He writes: “The parables are ultimately an expression of God’s hiddenness in this world and of the fact that knowledge of God always lays claim to the whole person—that such knowledge is one with life itself, and that it cannot exist without ‘repentance’. For in this world, marked by sin, the gravitational pull of our lives is weighted by the chains of the ‘I’ and the ‘self’. These chains must be broken to free us for a new love that places us in another gravitational field where we can enter new life” (p.193-194). Again, we have the word ‘repentance’ where we hear that knowledge of God cannot exist without ‘repentance’…I would wager to say that there is no authentic lectio without the opening of the heart, without a turning towards God with open receptivity to God’s word. In receiving God’s word, we are moving from a very narrow and self-oriented gravitational pull to another gravitational field where the unconditional love and mercy of God resides. The very self-oriented horizon is now expanded and deepened into this new horizon where the heart and mind are wide open to receive the love and the needed change that is being asked of us. To break those ego chains that weigh us down, we need repentance… ‘Let your hearts be broken not your garments torn’, says the prophet Joel (2:13).
We can see these shifts in the gravitational field of the three main characters in the parable. First, the prodigal son, who takes his inheritance and squanders it. Finally, he re-discovers a deeper, truer self and comes to a new realization of love, which is the new gravitational pull that calls him back to his father. Then the father who upon seeing his son opens his arms and his heart to receive him…there is no criticism, no judgmental statements about what the son has done. This shows us another shift in horizon, a shift in understanding the image of God that Jesus is trying to portray. Finally, the older brother. Clearly, he is weighed down by the chains of the ego’s self-righteous words and defenses. Does he change or repent of the very limited field of life he places himself in? Is he ready to let go of his restricted law-abiding mentality to the wide-open love and mercy of his father? The parable does not go that far to show us if the elder son changes but leaves us with a reality that we can readily find in ourselves if placed in a similar situation as the elder son. How often our comparisons and jealousies place us in this narrow, confined space where we are no longer free…and God is somehow not in the picture. The outcome then is that we harshly are critical of a sister or brother. To place God back in the center, for a deeper knowledge of God, the call is to repent…to change the heart and mind perspective to the larger and inscrutable ways of God… “For my ways, my thoughts are not your ways, your thoughts” says the Lord God (Is 55:8).
I repeat Pope Benedict’s words to conclude: “These chains must be broken to free us for a new love that places us in another gravitational field where we can enter new life”.
Sr. Kathy DeVico, Abbess