HOME Homily Archives - Year C Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year C

Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year C
Homily. Readings: Joshua 5:9, 10-12; Psalm 34; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11-32.


Purple Stole and Gospel
Joshua 5:9, 10-12; Psalm 34; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

In today’s Readings we see that through his infinite mercy, the Lord removes the “reproach of Egypt” from his people (First Reading), while at the same time, through his ambassadors, who call us to reconciliation (Second Reading), we are able to return to the home of the Father, and forgive one another (Gospel).


Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son is proof of the divine inspiration of Scripture. It is remarkable both in its simplicity, and in its depth. In a sense, the story has come down to us with an inaccurate name, for Jesus’ message is, in fact, a “parable of Divine Mercy,” which should not be merely reduced to the father’s treatment of his errant son, but rather considered in light of God’s endless compassion. The divine mercy of God, which is illustrated through the father’s relation with his two sons, is presented as having both a consoling and a challenging nature.

Let us first take a look at the consoling part of the message, which is the fact that divine mercy transforms the soul. Jesus gives a masterful portrait of the younger son, casually providing details about the prodigal before, during, and after his degradation. In search of freedom, he throws away his sonship and, ironically, becomes a slave. He loses a father, who is replaced by a cold master who does nothing but exploit him, and he loses his Jewish identity, being sent to work with the swine. He even loses something of his very humanity, since his master won’t waste the pigs’ food on him. After finally hitting rock-bottom, he decides to come back home, and in returning to his father, his degraded soul is transformed. The father’s embrace gives him back his lost sonship, while his nakedness is covered with the robe, and his unshod feet, characteristic of slaves, are given new shoes. The ring, a symbol of authority, is put on his finger, and it is clearly seen that the father’s love has fully restored his lost son.

But Jesus did not stop the parable there. He kept it going because he wanted to challenge us as well. Divine mercy requires a response. The older son is appalled at the treatment of his brother, and chides his father in pride and self-righteousness, refusing to go into the house. The house, in this case, is a symbol of fellowship and communion with the father. In pursuing his lust, the younger son had been out of the house, and now, ironically, the “good” son is outside the house because of his pride. The father makes clear that the only way he will be admitted to the house is to forgive his brother. Taken together, both sons illustrate in their distinctive ways Christ’s message in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

The story concludes with an open ending. We are not told whether or not the older son enters the house, and therein lies another lesson about divine mercy: God always forgives, while our own forgiveness of others is really the open question.

The parable lends itself to rich pastoral applications. There will be people in the congregation who struggle with receiving God’s forgiveness. After the Roe vs. Wade case and the sexual revolution, there are many who carry tremendous burdens of guilt. Certainly tact and delicacy are required here, but a strong message needs to be given, letting everyone know that there is no “unforgivable” sin. God’s infinite goodness is waiting to embrace anyone who turns back to him. In the sacrament of reconciliation, we receive that incredible embrace of the Father. The prodigal threw away his sonship, but the father always remained a father…our God is a Father who forgives!

But guilt is not the only baggage that people carry. There will be much resentment for past wrongs and hurts. What marriage or family doesn’t have its own history of wounds? The father’s pleading with the older son shows us God’s attitude. In fact, he is continually pleading with us to forgive one another. Will we give up our pettiness? Will we embrace our brother? That is the continual challenge of the Christian life. Our pride is a tough enemy, but with God’s grace, and a good Lent, we can make progress.