March 10, 2010

Fourth Sunday of Lent

By Brian Pizzalato *
First Reading – Js 5:9a, 10-12
Responsorial Psalm – Ps 34:2-7
Second Reading – 2 Cor 5:17-21
Gospel Reading – Lk 15:1-3, 11-32

The Gospel reading for this Sunday is filled with everything that makes for a good story. It features a vivid portrayal of the characters and their relationships. We also see the themes of betrayal, intrigue, redemption, forgiveness, and love. In this week’s Gospel, Luke narrates what is typically called the parable of the prodigal son for us. However, we could alternatively call it the parable of a loving father and his two sons. Let’s take a look at each character in turn.

First, we have the younger son who asks his father for the inheritance that would normally only come to him after his dad had died. The fact that the younger son demanded his inheritance is comparable to him saying he wished his father were dead. As the story goes, the son then squanders his inheritance and is forced to take a job feeding pigs. When famine hit that distant country, the younger son found himself so hungry he was willing to eat the food the food the pigs ate. For a practicing Jew, eating the food of pigs would be the lowest of lows as swine were ritually unclean animals according to the Torah. However, hitting rock bottom leads to repentance, and he returned to his father, willing to do so even if it meant he must work for him as a servant.

Next, we have older son who stayed by his father’s side the whole time. When his brother returns, and is welcomed by their father with open arms, the older son become angry at his father. In his anger, he refuses to join the celebration held in honor of his brother’s return. His father reaches out to him, but his heart is hardened. He claims that he has not just worked for his father, but that he has slaved for him. This characterizes his mindset. He sees himself, not as a son but as a slave to his father. He is bitter at having not even received a little goat to celebrate, not with his father, but with his friends. He then refers to the younger son not as his brother, but as “your son.”  Finally, he accuses his brother of sins he cannot even be sure he committed, namely “swallowing up your property with prostitutes.”

In this parable, we have the example of two children who are both far away from their father. While the one distanced himself physically and through his sinfulness, the other though was spiritually distant from his father, though physically near. Ultimately, the younger son comes back to the Father in a meaningful manner, while the older son remained distant.

The third important character is the father himself. Much can be learned through observing his reaction to his two sons. Interestingly, the father comes out to meet both sons. It seems as though the father has been watching, waiting, and hoping that his younger son will return. He sees his son coming even though “he was still a long way off.” He doesn’t wait for his son to come near. Rather, he runs out to meet him, embraces him, and kisses him. As soon as his son utters the words of repentance, the father calls for a celebration and slaughters the fattened calf. Through this action and celebration, the “prodigal son” is thus reestablished as a son in the family. Though he was hoping to be nothing more than a servant, he is welcomed back as a son.

The father also comes out to meet his older son who is sulking outside and pleads with him. However, as we have seen, the older son with have nothing to do with reconciliation.

Sin had caused the younger son’s spiritual death. But he repented. However, through reconciliation with his loving and merciful father he has been raised from that spiritual death.  On the other hand, the older son chooses to remain in slavery, through his own sin against his father. He remains is as spiritually dead as his brother once was because he doesn’t see his father as loving and merciful, but instead as a slave driver.

What we should walk away from after hearing the Gospel is that God is the loving and merciful Father who awaits our return. He will run out to meet us, embrace us, kiss us, and restore us to his family through the sacrament of reconciliation.
Brian Pizzalato is the Director of Catechesis, R.C.I.A. & Lay Apostolate, Diocese of Duluth and is a faculty member of the Philosophy department of the Maryvale Institute, Birmingham, England.

Brian writes a monthly column, “Veritatis Splendor,” for The Northern Cross of the Diocese of Duluth and his 33-part series on the sacraments for The Northern Cross have also been posted on Catholic News Agency's website, where he also authors a weekly column, “Road to Emmaus,” on the Sunday Readings, (which are translated into Romanian and posted on

Pizzalato is currently authoring the regular series, "Catechesis and Contemporary Culture," in The Sower, published by the Maryvale Institute. He is also author of the Philosophy of Religion course book for the B.A. in Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition at the Maryvale Institute.

Brian holds an M.A. in Theology and Christian Ministry with a Catechetics specialization and an M.A. in Philosophy from Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. Brian currently pursuing an M.A. in Biblical Studies at the Augustine Institute in Denver, CO as well as being a Ph.D. candidate at the Maryvale Institute. Brian is married and has six children.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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