Fourth Sunday in Lent
[Scripture Readings: Jos 5:9a, 10-12; 2 Cor 5:17-21; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32]
In a short story titled The Lady and the Tiger, a young man is faced with a dilemma. He is in a coliseum standing before two doors. Behind one door there's hidden an exceedingly beautiful maiden. If he opens that door, she will be his. Behind the other door there's hidden a ferocious hungry tiger. If he opens that door he is finished.1 The story ends exactly at the point when the young man opens one of the two doors, but we aren't told which one. We are left to wonder whether his blind choice was tragic or happy.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son also ends abruptly, without telling us the older brother's decision. But there is this difference, he knows the consequences of his choice. Will he enter the celebration, or will he continue to reject his father's pleading by refusing to go in? After years of obeying his father, for the first time in his life, will the older brother reject what his father asks of him? Jesus leaves us in suspense, because like the older brother, the end of our personal stories has not yet been written. Will our choices end in tragedy or happiness?
The father's joy over his lost and found prodigal son is eclipsed by his older son's resentment. Even if his son enters the celebration, what will happen when the feasting is over? Everything the father has belongs to him. Will he share it with the dissipated squanderer who swallowed up his portion of the inheritance with prostitutes? He won't even call the boy “my brother.” Instead, he says contemptuously, “your son.” The parable ends without resolution, reflecting the broken relationships that exist in so many families and among so many peoples. The parable of the prodigal son and his older brother leaves us questioning what we are going to do about our own broken relationships. But we are not alone, we have a family member who will help us.
Because the reality of our situation goes far beyond what is revealed in this parable, for we have another brother, the First Born from all eternity, Jesus. When we left our Father's house and squandered our divine inheritance, our oldest brother, the Son of God, was deeply saddened to see us fall. He grieved with his Father, sharing the same love, the same longing for our return. Unlike the older brother in the parable who was glad to be rid of that younger brat, the Son of God decided to go in search of the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost brother and sister, not only the prodigal but also the resentful. So, our Father in heaven sent him to this distant land where Christ shared in our sufferings.
Moved with compassion by our ignorance and our mistakes, Jesus taught us about our Father's love for us, and how he watches the horizon every day longing for the return of all his sons and daughters. The return journey is long and hard, persevering under the hot sun of trials and difficult decisions. But by this way of the cross we make our way home, and great is the feast that is celebrated when we arrive. We come empty handed, but Jesus, our eldest brother, to whom the Father says, “All that I have is yours,” shares everything he has with us, even his own divine inheritance. Oh, what a loving Brother we have, who helps us make the right choices to love one another.
Who are we? We are the younger son who lived riotously, repented, returned, and was kissed tenderly. And we are the older son so full of murmuring whom Jesus is guiding to reconciliation. We have an elder Brother who loves us, and shares everything he has with us so that today we can gather together with great rejoicing in this Eucharistic feast as we make our way through the door, through Jesus, to eternal celebration in heaven.
1. Frank Stockton, The Lady or the Tiger and other Short Stories, TOR