Gospel: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
When are 'second chances' fair?
We all get second chances in life. Chances to start over. Chances to right a wrong. Chances to make a difference. Of course, many times second chances are not fair or just. But, when we received our personal second chances, did we deserve them or were they gifts?
The religious leadership criticized Jesus for gathering sinners around him. In response, he told the most famous parable about second chances ever recorded.
1 All the tax collectors and sinners there crowded around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and scribes grumbled, "This man hangs around with sinners. He regularly dines with them." 3 So, Jesus told them a parable.
11 "There was a man with two sons," Jesus began. 12 "The younger of the two said to his father, 'Give me the money you've saved for me.' 13 Not much later, the younger son gathered everything together and traveled to a distant country. There, he wasted his money as fast as he could. 14 After he spent all his money, there was a great famine where he lived. He became very poor. 15 So, he went into the countryside and got hired by one of the local citizens to tend pigs in the fields. 16 The hungry younger son yearned to eat the pig slop. But no one offered him any. 17 Then he came to his senses. 'How many of my father's workers have more than enough to eat,' he thought. 'But I grow weaker each day because I'm hungry! 18 I'll get up, go home to my father, and say to him, 'I've sinned against God. And I've embarrassed you. 19 I don't deserve to be called your son. Just hire me as one of your workers.' 20 So, he got up and went home to his father.
While he was still in the distance, his father saw in and was filled with love for his son. He ran up to his son, gave him a big hug, and kissed him. 21 The son tried to say, "Father, I've sinned against God. And I've embarrassed you. I don't deserve to be called your son.'
22 But, the father turned to his servant. "Quick!" the father commanded. "Go get the best robe we have. Clothe him with it. Put the family ring on his finger and put sandals on his feet. 23 Prepare the calf we have raised for special occasions. We're going to have a party tonight! 24 For my son was dead, but now he's really alive. He lost his way, but now he's found it again!'
25 The older of the two sons was working in the fields that day. When he returned at the end of the day, he walked near the house. Then, he heard music and dancing. 26 'Hey!' he called to one of the servants. 'What's going on?'
27 "Your brother has come home,' the servant replied. 'Your father slaughtered the specially-raised calf, because he accepted your brother back into the family, safe and sound.' 28 The brother became very angry and refused to enter the house.
29 Turning to his father, the older brother said, 'Listen, Father! For many years, I've slaved for you and have never once disobeyed you. But, you've never given me even a small bit of meat to share with my friends. 30 Yet, after YOUR son wasted his money on wild living and then came back, you throw him a coming home party!'
31 'My son,' the father replied, 'you're always with me. Everything I have is yours. But, we must celebrate. 32 YOUR brother was dead. Now he lives. He was lost. Now he's found.'"
In the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus brought together three different groups. Each group could grow through a change of heart and self-giving.
1 Very many tax collectors and sinners were crowding (close) to HIM, to hear HIM. 2 The Pharisees and scribes grumbled, saying, "This (MAN) welcomes sinners (into HIS company) and dines with them." 3 So, HE told them this parable, saying:
11 HE said: "A certain man had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, 'Give to me the part of the property belonging to (me).' 13 Not many days afterwards, having gathered together everything, the younger son traveled to a distant country and there he squandered his property, living recklessly. 14 After he spent everything, there was a strong famine in that country. And he began to be needy. 15 Having traveled, he clung to one of the citizens of that country and he sent him into the fields to tend (his) pigs. 16 He longed to be filled with the carob pods that the pigs were eating and no one gave him any. 17 Having come to himself, he said, "How many of my father's workers have more than enough food, but I waste away in hunger. 18 Standing up, I will travel to my father and say to him, 'I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Take me on as one of your workers.' 20 Standing up, he went to his father. While he was still far away, his father saw him, was filled with pity, and running, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22 But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring out the robe, the best one, and put it on him. Place (the family) ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. 23 Get the wheat-fed calf. Slaughter it. Feasting, let us celebrate 24 because this son of mine was dead and he lives again. He was lost, now he is found.' And they began to celebrate.
25 His older son was (working) in the field. Coming (in that evening), he drew near the house. He heard music and dancing. 26 Having called one of the servants, he asked what these (festivities) might be. 27 The (servant) said to him, 'Your brother has come and your father slaughtered the wheat-fed calf, because, being healthy, he took him back.' 28 He was angry and did not want to enter (the party). 29 Having answered, he said to his father, 'Look! For so many years I have slaved for you and have never gone against your commands. You've never even given me a (cheap) kid goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But, when this son of yours, consuming your livelihood with prostitutes, came, you slaughtered the wheat-fed calf for him!' 31 But he said to him, 'Child, you are always with me and all things mine are yours. 32 But it is necessary to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and lives again. He was lost and is found.'"
15:2 The religious leaders objected to the fact Jesus built his ministry upon the tax collector and the sinner. Many urban Jewish leaders stressed purity in worship and lifestyle. Such an outlook encouraged exclusion. The rural background of Jesus gave him a wider vision of ministry.
15:11 "the property belonging to (me)" is literally "the property falls to (me)"
15:18-19 "Standing up . . . " also has the meaning of "rising up," code words for resurrection.
15:19 "threw his arms around him" is literally "fell on his neck" The father embraced his son so tightly, his head fell on the neck and shoulders of his son.
15:22 "Quick!" This adverb modified fetching the robe, the ring, and the sandals.
"the best one" is literally "the first one." The robe was not only the finest. It represented the place of highest honor in the family. The family ring also indicated an honored status.
15:23 "Get the wheat-fed calf." Wheat was the grain of the rich. Barley was the grain of the poor. Not only was this calf raised for a special occasion, it was raised for best flavor. No expense was spared on this calf
15:24, 32 "he was lost" The word "lost" does not mean "to lose one's way." Its meaning lies closer to the word "destroy." The "lost" were those who acted in a self-destructive way. "Lost" in this sense parallels "death."
The Pharisees criticized Jesus for the focus of his ministry: the outcasts. In response, Jesus told a parable of the lost, the righteous, the loving father of both, and the great party that brought all three together. [1-3]
According to Jewish custom, a younger son received one-third of an inheritance at the death of the father, but it could be divided during the father's lifetime. In the parable, the younger son not only "cashed out" his inheritance in an economic sense; he rejected his cultural and religious birthright when he moved from his home (Israel) to a foreign country. To use another economic saying, the younger son "sold (Judaism) out." [11-12]
When the young man spent his inheritance foolishly, he found that he was truly a foreigner, someone without a home. To survive, he was willing to work as a swine herder; since Jews considered pigs unclean, the young man made himself unclean. Now he was truly alone, for no Jew even living in a foreign country would help him. The local pagans even despised him; they would not feed him pig food. [13-16]
Repenting, the son decided to return home and accept any punishment given him. But, instead of punishment, the son received a party with a place of honor from his father. The father rejoiced, for his son, dead to the family and the community, was now alive. [17-24] The early followers of Jesus could see themselves at the celebration; the ritual was baptism itself, the sign of repentance, rebirth, and new life with the Father.
The older son jealously objected to the celebration of his younger sibling's return [25-30]. The older son represented the Pharisees. Pharisees held that God could be pleased when the Law was faithfully followed in the smallest detail. They could not understand the Christian point of view; sinners who did not keep the Law could please God by repenting.
If the Pharisees could not understand the impact of repentance, then they could not understand its connection with resurrection. God raised Jesus up after physical death; he raises sinners up after moral death. To turn again to God is to be "raised up" by God, to be given a second chance. [31-32]
Catechism Theme: The Sacrament of Second Chances
The Sacrament of Reconciliation or Penance is a sacrament of second chances. Also known as the sacrament of conversion, confession, or penance, the Sacrament of Reconciliation forgives sins committed after Baptism. We can sin after Baptism, for sin hurts God (it denies God's honor and love), ourselves (it denies our dignity as children of God), and other people (the Church). (1487)
In spite of sin, God continually calls us back. How? God leads us back to himself and to the Church through his grace. This movement is called repentance or conversion; it consists of sorrow for past sins committed and a firm promise not to sin in the future. (1489, 1490) There are two types of repentance:
If repentance is based upon a love for God, it is called "perfect contrition"; such contrition forgives mortal sins if the intention to receive the sacrament of reconciliation (as soon as reasonably possible) is present. (1492, 1459)
If repentance is based upon other reasons (fear or guilt), it is called "imperfect contrition." (1492)
The sacrament of reconciliation consists of a penitent's actions and the priest's absolution. The penitent's actions are:
repentance (an examination of conscience and true sorrow for sins committed).
confession of sins to the priest.
the intention to repair damage done and actions to repair such damage. (1486, 1491)
The sacrament allows the penitent the chance for self-honesty, spiritual counseling, and the opportunity to right past wrongs. In the absolution, the priest recognizes the process of conversion in the penitent, and declares it complete. Indeed, sin has been forgiven.
How have you celebrated conversion this Lent? How have you encouraged those around you to do the same?
The story of the Prodigal Son was as much a story of transition as it was of second chances. Let us remember that second chances are invitations to transition; let us consider the importance of celebrating second chances. Christianity is a lifelong celebration of second chances, not a presumption of God's mercy. That is why we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a chance the wipe the spiritual slate clean, a chance to start anew as a child of the Father.
How long has it been since you received the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Make plans to celebrate the sacrament this week.