01 March 2007

WE CAN CHANGE THE STORY


4th Sunday of Lent
Lk 15:1-3,11-32

The Gospel today comes from the 15th chapter of the gospel according to St. Luke. This chapter speaks about three loses: a lost sheep, a lost coin, and, today’s Gospel, a lost son. Indeed, it is a chapter that is rather too short to have too many loses.

Beginning with a lost animal, the 15th chapter of St. Luke’s gospel ends with a lost person. Developing with a gradual but steady rise in tension, Luke dramatically narrates to us how one lost sheep is favored over the ninety-nine remaining, how a lost coin is valued more than its apparent worth, and two sons loved by their father more than they know.

Luke 15 is a gospel within the Gospel. It is a gem among all the parables of Jesus. It highlights the core message of the Good News we preach and are ready to die for: God loves us more than we know.

We have two sons in the Gospel today. Quite often, our attention and reflection as regards this parable is focused on the younger son who, after taking his inheritance even as his father is far from being in danger of death, left home and squandered the said inheritance from dissolute living. Let us not forget that he has an elder brother who stayed at home with their father, ever obedient, but not as gracious as their father is. The truth is, their father lost them both.

The father lost his younger son because the younger son literally and physically left home. But he likewise lost his first-born who, though not leaving his side, never considered himself a son, but a slave, after all. Nonetheless, despite abandoning him in their own unique ways, the father loves them both.

It is easy for most of us to identify with the younger son. His transgressions against his father are too pronounced to be ignored and too common not to spot in our selves. Let us, therefore, spend time reflecting on the elder son instead for now.

The father lost his elder son, his first-born, without physically missing his presence. The elder son did not leave home. He stayed with his father and, as he himself reminded the father, was very obedient to him. Yet despite his dedication to his father, his father lost him. Indeed he his was a selfless obedience because he had no self to begin with. He has lost his identity.

At the return of the younger brother, the elder was furious. He refused to go in and join the welcome party. Instead, he berated his father with a list of what seems what his father owed him for his servitude. Now we know why.

“All these years,” the elder son complained to his father, “I have slaved for you. I have not disobeyed any of your orders. Yet you have not given me even just a kid goat to feast on with my friends.” Aha! The elder son’s opening salvo immediately betrays his understanding of who he is in relation to their father: a slave. His was not obedience but servitude after all. Moreover, he was expecting payment for the services he rendered his father. The least he expected was a kid goat to feast on with his friends. So unfortunate, the elder son forgot that in the father’s house, there are no slaves, only children. Thus, the father, when he had his turn to speak, immediately reminded his first-born who he really is. He said, “My son.”

But the elder son was far from over with his wrath and fury. “But when this son of yours came,” he continued, never giving his father the chance to rebut, “you even killed the fatted calf for him?” So, it was just a kid goat that he wanted after all, was it? Why then did he not ask it from his father? The fact is, he did not even need to ask permission from his father before slaughtering any of their livestock to serve to his friends. All that he had to do was to inform him, “Dad, I’m having a party with my friends. I want to serve them kilawin or kaldereta, so I’m getting a kid goat from the farm today…just in case you wonder why you’re missing one.” But the thought escaped him because slaves neither think nor act that way. And he considered himself a slave, remember?

Thus, the father reminded him again, “…you are with me always and all I have is yours.” What a pity for the elder son, his eyes were on a kid goat but his heart was not for his brother. When the father told him, “all I have is yours”, that “all” includes the younger son. Therefore, he whom the elder son refers to as “this son of yours” is actually a helpless attempt to avoid saying “this brother of mine”. The elder son simply refused to be identified with he whom most of us usually easily dismissed as the family’s “black sheep” – the wayward brother. But firmly yet gently, the father gave the punch of tough love: “But it is only right we should celebrate and rejoice,” his father told him, “because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”

I heard a preacher once remarked that it is not accidental that this parable is left hanging, without an ending. The story leaves a question in our mind: Did or did not the elder son go inside the house and join the celebration? The preacher I heard said that this parable does not have an ending because it precisely has not ended yet. We continue the story of this parable by the kind of life we live. This parable is our biography. Sometimes, we are the younger son. Sometimes, we are the elder son. And sometimes, we are father too.


The question now is: At this point in our life, who are we in the parable? Let us be careful with our answer because, through our answer, we can change the story, you know.

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