In the tradition of the Church, the Fourth Sunday of Lent has been known as Laetare Sunday. The name comes from the first word of today’s entrance antiphon in Latin, laetare, meaning “rejoice.” With Easter Sunday now twenty-one days away, we are symbolically at the mid-point of Lent, and the Church takes a moment to rejoice. The joyful character of this day can be expressed through the use of rose-colored vestments, and the altar may be decorated with flowers, unlike during the rest of Lent.

Today’s readings are rich with the spirit of celebration, as we are invited to “taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” At the heart of the liturgy is today’s Gospel, the famous “parable of the prodigal son.” While the joy of the father is an obvious example of celebration, we learn from this Gospel that not everyone shares equally in his joy. We can ponder the parable from several perspectives: the father’s, the younger son’s, and the older son’s. The parable conjures up many adjectives to describe each one. It challenges us to see how we would react if we were each one.

The father can be described as generous, patient, compassionate, forgiving, merciful, and joyful. He begins by generously giving the younger son his share of the inheritance. He patiently waits for his son’s return, never giving up hope. When the son does return, the merciful father meets him with tender compassion and forgiveness. The father is filled with joy because, as he puts it, “this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.”

The younger son can be described as greedy, selfish, entitled, irresponsible, short-sighted, and immoral. He wants his inheritance even before his father has died. Once he has his hands on the money, he sets off “to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.” He misuses his assets, living for the pleasures of the moment, with no thought of the future. This son grew up always having what he needed, but he never learned gratitude when he was with his father. He did not realize that apart from his father his assets would eventually dry up.

The older son can be described as resentful, proud, angry, self-righteous, and ungrateful. He dutifully obeyed his father, but not out of love. He believed he was doing everything right and yet was never acknowledged or rewarded. The parable does not say whether the older son went into the celebration in the end. What would we do if we were in his shoes?

This parable challenges us. Any parent who has had a child go astray can certainly relate to the father who is overjoyed upon his return. Any child who has gone astray can relate to the younger son who thought he knew better and wanted to get out from beneath his parents’ thumb and go experience the world – only to find out it offers misery rather than satisfaction. Every sibling who has seen a sibling go astray and then be welcomed home by their parents can relate to the older son who is upset and resentful.

The father in his love for his sons is not “fair” to either of them. And God the Father, in his love for us is not fair; he is merciful! This is God’s greatest attribute. He is mercy itself – overflowing, generous, forgiving, healing and joy-filled! In the second reading, St. Paul speaks of the reconciliation that this parable demonstrates, “And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ.” We are called to be ambassadors of this reconciliation. As this week’s Theme challenges us, “God calls us to be ambassadors of his merciful love.” How? “Let us enter humbly into the Father’s embrace and accept his mercy.” Merciful love is like a smile; it is contagious and causes a reaction.

Truly God has “removed the reproach of Egypt” from each one of us. He has removed the chains of sin in which we were held in bondage, and he has made us a new creation. There is never a real need or a good excuse for us to leave the Father’s house where we can continue to grow, to thrive, and to serve. If we wander off on our own to a “distant land,” we harm ourselves, depriving ourselves of the grace and the relationships we need to be truly happy. God no longer provides us with manna because now Jesus offers himself, the Bread of Life, who reconciles us to the Father.

In what ways have I experienced the choices of the younger and older son in my life? How does living for the pleasures of the moment hinder my interior growth? What are my inner reactions when I feel that I am not acknowledged for what I do?

Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 3. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.