Exile and Return

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Fourth Sunday of Lent


Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them Jesus addressed this parable: “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against Heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against Heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”


Opening Prayer: Come Holy Spirit, open my heart to hear the Word, Christ himself. May it enter my mind and pierce my heart, changing me from the inside out. 


Encountering Christ:


  1. Extending Grace: Jesus told this parable in response to the Pharisees’ condemnation of him welcoming sinners. So what is the message for these men? The older brother represents the Pharisees. They were indeed righteous, observing all of the Father’s commands (“all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders”). When they saw Jesus eating and welcoming sinners, they acted like the older brother; they became angry, jealous, and accusatory. By acting that way, they put themselves in a type of exile, refusing to come into the Father’s house. The father in the parable pleaded with the older son to return from exile, to be charitable and merciful and welcome his brother home. The younger brother did not deserve grace, but that is what is so beautiful about grace: none of us deserve it. God extends his grace to all of us. We are each called to accept this grace for ourselves and share it with others. We can ask ourselves if there are certain people we cannot forgive or toward whom we have trouble extending grace.
  2. Lost Sheep: The younger brother gathered up his inheritance and turned his back on his father and his home. He went wandering, like a lost sheep: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). He went into his own exile, carried off by the lure of worldly pleasure. We too turn our backs on God the Father when we sin. We too wander off into dangerous country into a type of self-exile. But Jesus will come to find us if we listen to his voice, the call of the Good Shepherd (cf. John 10:27). This parable is parallel to the story of the lost sheep that Jesus also told to the tax collectors and sinners. The older brother–and thus the Pharisees–are part of the ninety-nine sheep, while the prodigal son–representing poor sinners who repent–is the one sheep. When Jesus finds one who has sinned and he or she repents, he carries the sinner on his own shoulders back to the fold. “And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:6-7).
  3. New Life in Christ: This parable of the prodigal son is a conversion story. It is a story of exile and return. “Coming to his senses,” he finally listened to his conscience, the voice of reason in his soul. Some translations say “coming back to himself.” He was far away from his true nature, but by listening to his conscience, he heard the voice of the Good Shepherd inside of him, calling him to come back to himself. St. John Henry Newman called the conscience “the aboriginal Vicar of Christ” in the soul. It is the voice of Christ that brings us to repentance when we have sinned. But we must listen to this voice and not tune it out. We must allow Jesus to find us when we have strayed and follow him back home. The younger son examined his conscience, then went to his father to ask for his forgiveness. This is a Biblical model of the sacrament of Reconciliation! The prodigal son was brought back to life, for his father said that he “was dead and has come to life again.” He had been given new life in Christ. Our second reading today speaks directly to this: “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:17-19). Each time we go to Confession, we are participating in this ministry of reconciliation by accepting God’s forgiveness and grace. We are lost and Jesus has found us.


Conversing with Christ: Jesus, my Good Shepherd, thank you for finding me when I have turned my back and wandered far away from you. I beg you to find me each time I am lured away by the delights of the world. Help me to focus on you and listen to my conscience, your voice deep within me, calling me back to you.


Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will imitate your merciful love by offering grace to someone I need to forgive.


For Further Reflection: Listen to this homily from Word on Fire by Bishop Barron: The Prodigal Son.


Carey Boyzuck is a wife, mother, freelance writer, and lay member of Regnum Christi. She blogs at www.word-life-light.com.

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