The Prodigal Son

Fourth Sunday of Lent

This story is aptly called the parable of God the Father’s mercy. The son had offended his father deeply. But his Dad was waiting every day for his return. When he saw him coming he ran to him and threw his arms around him and kissed him tenderly. There were no questions, no accusations; simply mercy and forgiveness. It was not a reluctant greeting. There was no awkwardness or desire to get “pay back”, rather an enthusiastic, warm embrace. This is the heart of our God when we repent and turn back to him. Therese of Lisieux said “God does not know arithmetic!” What she meant was that he does not count our faults against us!

We need to remember that Jesus told this parable to the Pharisees when they were complaining about him welcoming sinners and eating with them. They lacked mercy. They were like the older son who had stayed at home and been dutiful towards his father, but now resented his father welcoming home his sinful brother and refused to celebrate. The older son was angry and vengeful towards his brother. He shuts himself out from the father’s house, preferring to stay in darkness rather than join in the celebration of mercy. Notice his father came outside to try to persuade him to join the party. But he stubbornly retained his indignation: “Look, all these years I have 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 had been fattening”. It seems so unfair. He is incapable of mercy. Notice that the father loves him equally. He calls him “my son”, a term of endearment, “you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it is only right that we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found”

The parable challenges our tendency to judge others harshly and not believe in God’s mercy. When we refuse to forgive a person who has offended us, we can be like the older brother, shutting ourselves out of the Father’s house, unable to walk in the light and not capable of a joyful heart. We labour under the bitterness of resentment and are enslaved by our hardness of heart. Lent is a good time to examine the heart and open ourselves to the gift of mercy.

Questions for Reflection

  • In the parable who do you identify with? The younger son or the older son? Why
  • Can your recall, and maybe share, a time when you found it difficult to forgive?
  • Lent is a good time for the sacrament of reconciliation. What has been your experience of this sacrament? How do you feel about going to the sacrament?
  • What do you think is the best way to overcome the human tendency to make harsh judgements about others?


Fr Ken Barker

DOJ Canberra


Today’s Scripture

1st Reading: Joshua 5:9a, 10-12 

2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 

Gospel: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32