4th Sunday Lent C
Sunday 27th March 2022
The Gospel Paraphrased
There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.
This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased
Lk 15: 1-3, 11-32
The tax collectors and sinners were gathering round Jesus to listen to him. The religious and civil leaders complained, ‘This man welcomes sinners and even eats with them.’ So Jesus told them this parable.
There was a certain man who had two sons. Well, one of these sons – the younger – said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate – what will come to me when you die.’ So the father divided up his livelihood. Then not too many days afterward, the son gathered up his share and took off to a distant country. There he threw away his share of the estate by living sumptuously. By the time he had gone through the lot, the country went into famine, extreme famine, and he was destitute. So desperate was he that he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who then sent him out into the fields to look after the pigs! And how he yearned to stuff himself with the husks the pigs were eating, but no-one offered him even a little. Finally he came to his senses, ‘How many of my father’s servants have more than enough bread and here am I starving. I will arise, go to my father and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am not even worthy to be called your son. Treat me like a hired servant.”’ So he arose and returned to his father.
From a long way off, the father saw him coming and his heart leapt in compassion. Running, he came up and wept on the neck of his son and then he kissed him tenderly. The son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am not even worthy to be called your son.’ But the father was ordering the servants, ‘Bring out the best robe, put it on him, yes, put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet. And bring in the grain-fed calf, kill it. We are going to feast and celebrate! For this, my son was dead and has come to life. He was lost and now he is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
The older son had been out in the fields and as he drew near to the house he heard the music and dancing and asked one of the servants what was going on. The servant said, ‘Your brother is here. Your father has had the grain-fed calf killed as he has returned safe and sound.’ And the older son was indignant and refused to go in. So his father came out to him to comfort, entreat and plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look, all these years I’ve slaved for you and never crossed a single one of your orders and have you given me so much as a kid to celebrate with my friends? No. But when this son of yours comes home, having chewed up your living with prostitutes, you kill the grain-fed calf!’ And the father replied, ‘Son, son, you are with me always and all that I have is yours. It was only right that we should celebrate. Your brother was dead – he is now alive. He was lost and now is found.’
The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.
This Sunday's Psalm
I will bless God in every season and situation,
praise ever in my mouth.
My soul shall make its boast in God.
When the humble hear this they will be glad.
O glorify God with me,
together let us praise the divine name.
I sought God and he answered me,
delivering me from all my fears.
They looked to God and he shone on them.
They will not be ashamed.
The poor cry out and God hears,
saving them from all their troubles.
Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.
This Sunday's Prayer
Loving God, give us generous and rich hearts so filled with your Spirit that we can graciously forgive those who do not deserve it. May our minds and hearts so expand that we can live by the amazing love that your son Jesus offers us. We ask this in his name, confident that you will hear us.
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
The Sunday’s parable is one of the best loved of all the parables. Far longer than most parables, it has outstanding psychological insights into human behaviour in relation to God. The very simplicity of the elements allows many and rich interpretations but the focus in the discussion here will be primarily on the relationship between the father and the older son.
The parable comes after Jesus has accepted hospitality in the house of one of the Pharisees – a hospitality that really was just critical surveillance. There, Jesus had preached the need for a generous spirit. Now, as sinners come to hear him, he preaches to the Pharisees and scribes three parables epitomising this generosity. The first two – the parables of the Lost Coin and the Lost Sheep show people celebrating exuberantly and extravagantly over something they had lost. In this Sunday’s text we see that same attitude within a family setting. The father, a wealthy landowner, does not act with the dignity and decorum fitting the norms of his position in Palestinian society. He goes out to both his sons both physically and emotionally. Not only running to meet the younger son and weeping on his shoulder, he later goes out from the feast to plead with his older son to enter into his joy. The verb used implies ‘pleading’, ‘exhorting’ and ‘comforting’ and has same root as the word ‘paraclete’. The depth and complexity of the father’s emotions contrasts sharply with the mercenary, calculating attitude of his older son. While the younger son had been prepared to be treated like a ‘hired hand’ on his return, the older son had made himself less than a slave without even having left the household. The older son has been imprisoned by his mean attitude even more than his brother was imprisoned by his passions. While critical of the celebrations and the joy at the return of his brother, one wonders just what would bring about a sense of celebration and joy in someone whose heart had been so twisted.
And that is the point of the parable for the Pharisees-if they cannot enter into the joy of God over the repentance of a sinner, they will not be able to enter into the joy of God- period.
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
Who is the odd man out amongst the father and his two sons in this parable? Yes, the older brother. One thing the father and the younger son have in common is an ability to live life exuberantly. Yes, the younger brother did this in the wrong way but it did leave him open to repentance and the recognition that he had got it wrong. The older son, on the other hand, is like a pinched nerve, constricted and painful in his attitudes. In life, he prefers resentment to risk. With his critical attitude he is always ready to take offence at any perceived slight. This is a very narrow way to live. It could be different.
Imagine if the next morning, he came in, welcomed his younger brother and gave him another chance. By doing this, he would free himself from the burden of living in continual criticism of his father for being indulgent, and of his brother for being so selfish and wasteful. As it is, he lives his life in reaction to what the father and brother do or don’t do. Yet if he could come to accept and forgive his brother, and implicitly his father, he then becomes free to live his own life, to take responsibility for his own attitudes…and have his own relationship with the father.
Part of the reason why Jesus is trenchant is his condemnation of critical unforgiving attitudes is that they are like chains that bind our lives. The energy spent watching and judging others is energy lost from living our own lives in love. When we are continually in reaction to what others are doing, we are denying ourselves the capacity to live in dignity, freedom and love. Truly such attitudes do more harm to ourselves than to those we resent.
Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.
This Sunday's Reflection
The first words Jesus utters in the Gospel of John is the question, ‘What do you want?’ The question could well be asked of the elder son. Just what did he want? What he thinks he wants, he has made himself incapable of receiving. Joy, love, happiness, celebration are all states of mind and heart that entail going out of oneself. But this man is so totally wrapped up in himself, he has made of himself a slave – and a low one at that – one whose every move is done with calculation. He thinks that love will be earned by good behaviour, not realising that good behaviour is rather a fruit of love.
This parable was directed at the religious leaders who put great store by following the law in order to earn God’s favour. And it is directed to us who profess ourselves as Christians. If we want to earn God’s favour by our good behaviour, we have lost the plot. We are treating love and goodness as mercantile quantities, which such things of the heart are not. Our good behaviour comes because we have been favoured by God. Indeed, as the favoured ones of God, we should ask, what do we want? If the answer is joy, happiness, love – then they have been given us but we need to straighten the self-serving twist in our own hearts to become capable of recognising and receiving them. The primary means we have to do this is by being generous and forgiving – especially of those brothers and sisters who have wronged us. Then we will become Godlike, good and loving.
Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.
This Sunday's Visual Meditation
- Les Miserables
- A river runs through it
- Ordinary People
- Anna Karenina
The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.
This Sunday's Mulling Meditation
As you go through this week, mull on the times that you find yourself having a critical and negative attitude towards other people. Ask yourself, what is you drives you to this. Ask the Spirit to open the eyes of your mind and heart to see people in his light.
In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.
This Sunday's Mirror Meditation
Rest in the love of your God.
In the presence of your God, pray the words of the Our Father, ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ Slowly and gently, recall those who have offended you, those towards whom you hold resentment. Hold them out to the Father and ask him to take the pain that they have caused you and show you how you are to deal with it.
Rest in the love of your God.
Suggestions for the Programme
The elements of the programme can be used in any way that helps your prayer. The suggestions below are fairly simple ways of using this programme.
Become conscious of your God
Hymn or poem
Reading of Gospel text
Mulling over a reflection
Become conscious of your God
Reading of Gospel text and reflection
The programme can also be used for Staff Prayer. How you may put together such a prayer would be influenced largely by the size and dynamics of your staff. For example, a smaller staff group might be able to use discussion of a movie as a way of exploring the meaning of a Gospel.
A painting illustrating the Gospel could be displayed on an interactive board
Reading of the Gospel
Invitation for share reflections
Reading of part of the Gospel
One or two of the mulling themes
Time for reflection
- I Will Rise by John Bell
- I Will Rise and Go to My Father by J. Chepponis
- Yes I shall arise and go to my Father by Lucien Deiss
- The king of love my shepherd is Traditional.
- Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling by Will L. Thompson
Rolling the Stone from the Grave
Gone these three years
my youngest boy, all hunger on stilts,
varnisher of risk theory, refuses
to straddle, wounded by friendly spears.
Eager for strange streets.
Did you ever hold a lion
cub by the ear? Tell me.
Pulling weeds, worrying my cabbages,
I stop, turn to grab a hoe;
across the valley I see a speck
far off on the ascending road.
There are specks and specks.
I see them every day.
Don’t ask me why I stare.
Leaning on my hoe, I watch the speck
become a blob, the blob become
a man, the man becomes my son.
I run, trampling the cabbages,
down the mountain road,
weeping, shouting idiocies,
laughing, arms gathering in.
I roll the stone from the grave. losing
is loving with a leaky heart; finding
is the excess of the blood’s expanding universe.
Buy Hebron wine. The cost be damned.
No one Loves Me
But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured you property wit prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him! Luke 15:30
The Golden Nothing creeps home
The kid who siphoned off your blood,
slit your purse, is back expecting
bows and offerings. You’ve crumbled with joy.
He trashes your new ox
cart, burns your barn, comes purring back once more,
rubbing his adolescent fur against
your boney leg, waiting for your petting
hand. You wince, smile. The cycle
of eternal return. Your fault, only yours.
Tell me, just tell me why
this heedless selfish cub
all claws and smiles, can
charm away the jagged slash upon
your face. The cut goes deeper than
the scar. No leash, no cage will do.
He scampers free to booze in back-
strip brothels. This son
of yours has the brass, cold brass,
to ask you for his portion
while you live. And now he’s back,
hungry, broke, mauled by city cats,
leaving a trail of chaos and copulation,
licking the self-inflicted wounds, scratching
at your front door to see
if he had left some loot
behind last time round.
Once more, the tattered plumage, polished
tears. You suggest I sing the kid
a Hallel psalm to celebrate his passing
over. But, I, too was trapped.
For years I bled fidelity
unsung. No new rags upon
my back. Am I an alley mongrel?
No, I will not join the joy.
I’m weary of forgiveness.
Let the lost stay lost.
Next month, he’ll be gone.
Both poems in Yahweh’s Other Shoe St John’s University Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. copyright Order of St Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota