The fourth Sunday of Lent is halfway in the journey to Easter, sometimes called Refreshment Sunday as well as Mothering Sunday, as it offers a respite from the more exacting demands of the season. Social custom in former times made this weekend an occasion for family re-unions for those whose work scattered them far from the homes in which they grew up. The story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 is fitting for the Eucharist Gospel of today.
Eight days ago, this story featured in the weekday readings and awakening to repentance was the theme reflected upon. Today, the father's compassion and his unconditional acceptance of a wayward son provide us with a human image of the merciful love of God reaching out to those who are lost. The conclusion of the story offers a searching insight into obstacles to reconciliation and re-union.
In Luke 15:28-32, the elder son protests at what he perceives to be indulgent treatment his father gives to his wayward brother. He refuses to join in the homecoming celebration, and complains his father has never been as generous to him as to his younger brother, even though he was always hard working and conscientious. For whatever reason, he'd never made any demands on his father, like his brother.
The elder is so angry and full of resentment, he disowns the younger brother calling him 'this son of yours'. The father reassures the elder that his place in the family and his inheritance is guaranteed. He needs to celebrate the prodigal's return. He wants to share the joy of restored family life, whatever that might mean for future relationships. The elder son cannot shake off the illusion of being wronged, resentment estranges and isolates him from the family. It serves as a warning against the power of resentment to deprive us of the joy of re-union, of belonging.
This reminds us to search our hearts for emotional obstacles to intimacy, not only in relationships with one another, but with God. Secretly, we may be angry with God due to experiences we feel we don't deserve, which leave us hurt if not damaged. Or, we may feel we've made few demands on God and would some reward, but never ask for blessing of any kind, perhaps feeling we don't deserve different, but wishing for something anyway. The complex dynamics of expectation are patterned in our early life and becoming aware of these character flaws can be a slow and difficult process. We need to keep reminding ourselves that God sees through us.
'Lord you search me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.'
There is no hiding from his scrutiny.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea .... If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. (Psalm 139:7-12)
Will we allow the light of his love to enter our dark inner places and allow us to see ourselves as we really are so that we can acknowledge and dispose of those inner obstacles which stop us from growing closer?