Gospel Reflections

4th Sunday of Lent

Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Sunday Gospel Reflection by Sister Margaret Foley

Published: March 06, 2016

Read 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... Read More…

A powerful theme running through the Gospel readings of recent weeks is that of JOURNEY, with the Epiphany journey of the Magi (forever memorable in the poetry of T. S. Eliot), and now the journey towards Easter in the weeks of Lent.

The image of the JOURNEY is found throughout the Scriptures. It is one of the "great words" of the Bible. We hear and reflect about the Exodus from Slavery to Freedom. What must it be like to set out on such a risky venture: excitement, fear, certainty, uncertainty for Jesus on the  road to Jerusalem: "Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem."  Luke 9, 51-56

When we think of journey today, we think of leaving to go somewhere new, leaving to find something, leaving with no specific purpose except the experience itself. People today pack a bag and take off across the world. Conversely, on our TVs we are bombarded with endless columns of refugees fleeing home and country, risking death on a journey to find freedom and a safe haven to raise their children, an EXODUS of our time from Slavery to Freedom.

Closer to home, we think of loving parents hiding their anxiety and fears as a son or daughter prepares to leave home and begin the journey towards adulthood. A wonderful story in the Old Testament is found in Chapter 4 of the Book of Tobit (and Anna, his wife!). Tobit is sending his son Tobias on a journey. (We all know the story of Tobias and the angel Raphael on that journey). But before he leaves, Tobit counsels his son in words that could well be a blueprint to guide parents today. (Read chapter 4).

In today's Gospel, we read another story, the story of the Prodigal Son. This is a story that leads us into new depths in our understanding of journey. The dictionary defines prodigal as "recklessly wasteful" (person) or "lavish." This is an intriguing image. Here is a young man, the younger son, obviously well-loved by his parents, restless and eager to set out and find the world. It is his story.

His parents agree to advance his inheritance ensuring he is well provided for as he takes his leave. This for him becomes a journey of self-discovery. He thought he knew where he was going, but as the delights faded and friends fell away he began to flounder out of his depth. Struggling to survive amidst utter destitution and degradation he saw where his journey had led him, he saw who he had become.

This is a totally human moment where with a flash of realization, we suddenly understand something about ourselves for the first time and more, we acknowledge it and accept it. With acceptance of this insight in this moment of self-awareness, the prodigal begins an inner journey, his pilgrimage of self-discovery. From traveler on a journey he becomes a pilgrim on the journey inwards that from death leads to life.

We, each of us, have our own story, the time of our becoming, our growing from childhood to adolescence into adulthood. We grow to be who we are.

"Within the silence of your being LISTEN, STOP, and silently make a long pilgrimage to the bottom of your heart. WALK by the side of your love so new,  as a person follows a brook to find its source. AND, at the very end. Deep within you, in the infinite mystery of your troubled soul, it is God whom you will meet. “Listening to love is a long apprenticeship: loving is always leaving oneself to go towards others...." Sister Lawrence Murray, SNDdeN


The prodigal son left as a thoughtless young man taking all their love and provision for granted --  he returns as a humble pilgrim, acknowledging his unworthiness, asking forgiveness -- receiving abundant reconciliation. With a lovely touch, Nicholas King, SJ notes that when Rembrandt painted this most famous of all Lucan parables, he portrayed the father with his arms around the son, the left hand is that of a man, and the right hand that of a woman. The artist had spotted the parent in this parable is both father and mother. His journey continues; our journey continues.

Let us pray that on the way we meet "...one who loved the pilgrim soul in you and loved the sorrows of your changing face." -- WB. YEATS

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