4th Sunday of Lent (C)
///Luke 15:11-32 – Prodigal Son – 4th Sunday of Lent
///Luke 15:11-32 – Prodigal Son – 4th Sunday of Lent
The Parable of the
Homilies | Luke 15:11-32
Introduction (v 1-3)
Gospel commentary excerpts from a variety of sources. Click on links to view original source material and/or read more.
“This man welcomes sinners
and eats with them.”
Two Sons (v 11)
A man had
The Father is the Focus of Parable
SERMON WRITER – Some people count this as two parables—the first about the younger son and the second about the elder son. However, the focus of the parable is not the sons but the father, who has two sons—each flawed in his own way. The father loves both sons, and seeks to restore the family, which has been broken by (1) the younger son’s departure from the father’s home and (2) the elder son’s estrangement even though he still lives at his father’s home. The father’s love and efforts at reconciliation bring unity to the parable.
The Request (v 12)
“Father give me
the share of your estate”
How Property Was Divided Between Sons
SERMON WRITER – Deuteronomy 21:17 specifies that the first son is to be given a double portion of the inheritance—so a father’s property is to be divided by the number of sons plus one: If there are two sons, the property is to be divided into three portions—two of which (67 percent) go to the elder son and the third of which (33 percent) goes to the younger son.
Shameful Conduct of Younger Son
SERMON WRITER – Typically, sons receive their inheritance on the death of their father, so the younger son’s request is impudent and disrespectful—”tantamount to saying to his father, ‘Drop dead’” (Van Harn, 407). A father might decide to distribute part or all of the inheritance early, but the initiative must be the father’s—not the son’s. In the event that a son receives his inheritance prior to the father’s death, he is expected to stay at home to provide for his parents in their old age. That is part of what it means to “honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which Yahweh your God gives you” (Exodus 20:12).
Wild Living (v 13-14)
He squandered his inheritance
The Pharisees and the Scribes
FR EAMON TOBIN – Initially, the parable shows that the younger son is a big sinner showing no respect for his father. In asking for a share of his inheritance, he is wishing his father were dead. As Jesus talks about the younger son wasting his life, the Pharisees would have felt superior thinking that they are nothing like that irresponsible sinner.
In a Distant Country
SERMON WRITER – The phrase, “a far country,” (cf. Lk 15:13) has to do with more than geography. The place where this young man goes is distant in miles, but is also distant with regard to values. This young man is distancing himself from his father and everything that his father stands for.
Dire Need (v 15-16)
He hired himself out…
to tend the swine
This young man is reduced to serving pigs—setting their table—bringing their dinner—enduring their pushes and shoves—smelling their odor—tolerating their manners—envying their privileged status—even coveting their pig-food. – Sermon Writer
Realization (v 17-19)
“I no longer deserve…”
The Young Man’s “Aha!” Moment
SERMON WRITER – This young man’s “Aha!” moment (cf. Lk 15:18-19) has less to do with repentance than with self-interest. Being a menial servant to a pig-farmer, he is hungry. He notes the contrast between his situation and that of his father’s servants, who have plenty to eat. It dawns on him that he could improve his situation considerably if he could persuade his father to hire him as a servant.
PREACHER’S COMMENTARY – P. T. Forsyth, the great English preacher, said, “The only way to the Father is through the far country.” Must the far country be moral dissolution? It may be that. But the far country is the place where you become disillusioned with who you are. You are in the far country at the point where you are disappointed with the world and say, “Is this all there is?” And the Father says, “Of course not. Come home.” (Luke, vol. 26, p. 238)
Reunion (v 20-22)
His father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion
A Moment of Grace
SERMON WRITER – The robe, ring, and shoes (cf. Lk 15:22) convey dignity in the same way that a pinstriped suit and silk tie do today. They denote status. They signify that the father is returning this young man to the family. Servants don’t wear robes, rings, and shoes, but instead wear clothing that marks them as servants. The robe, ring, and shoes mark this young man as a family scion—the father’s son. Some scholars think of the ring as a signet ring, symbolizing the father’s authority, but that probably stretches things too far.
Clipart by Fr. Richard Lonsdale © 2000. Click image to view more clipart for this Sunday.
🔴 CATHOLIC PRAXIS
FR. TONY KADAVIL – At every Mass, we come to our loving Heavenly Father’s house as prodigal children.
- We begin the Mass acknowledging that we have sinned and have closed our hearts to God’s perfect love: (“I no longer deserve to be called your child, so do with me as you will”).
- Next, we listen to the Word that heals our broken and imperfect relationships with God (“say the Word and I shall be healed“).
- In the Offertory, we give ourselves back to the Father, and this is the moment of our surrendering our sinful lives to God our Father.
- At the consecration, we hear God’s invitation through Jesus: “… this is My Body, which will be given up for you… this is the chalice of My Blood … which will be poured out for you…” (=”All I have is yours”).
- In Holy Communion, we participate in God’s feast of reconciliation, the Holy Eucharist, the gift of unity with God and with His whole family. Here, we experience again the fully loving, give-and-take relationship with Him and His family, our restored brothers and sisters whom God gave us first in our Baptism.
Let us come to the house of God as often as we can to be reconciled with God, our forgiving Father, by asking His pardon and forgiveness, and to enjoy the Eucharistic banquet of reconciliation and acceptance He has prepared for us, His returned prodigal sons and daughters.
Rejoicing (v 23-24)
This son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found
The Fatted Calf
SERMON WRITER – Meat (cf. Lk 15:23) is not part of the daily diet, but is reserved for special occasions. When meat is required, a family usually slaughters a sheep or goat, because the smaller animal represents a lesser investment than a calf and can be consumed more easily within the family circle. They reserve the fatted calf for great celebrations, because its larger size needs neighbors, perhaps the whole village, to do it justice. In slaughtering the fatted calf, the father involves the community—sends them a message that he has restored this son to sonship and therefore to community membership as well.
AGAPE BIBLE STUDY – The fatted calf the father offers upon the younger son’s return symbolizes the restoration of communion with the father and the family in the same way a repentant sinner experiences restoration to God and His family in the Sacrament of the Eucharist within the household of the Church.
Dead/Alive — Lost/Found
SERMON WRITER – Note the contrast (cf Lk 15:24): dead/alive—lost/found. The father had almost, but not quite, given up hope. Now he has found what he had longed to find. His son is not only alive, but has come home. What a cause for celebration!
Resentment (v 25-30)
[The elder son] became angry, and refused to enter the house
The Pharisees and the Scribes
FR EAMON TOBIN – The Pharisees would have felt very much like this son. Like him, they too have obeyed the rules. Just as the older son resents the father for welcoming back the younger son, so too the Pharisees would have resented Jesus’ attitude towards sinners like the tax collectors and prostitutes.
AGAPE BIBLE STUDY – The Pharisees and scribes to whom Jesus is directing His parable are displaying the same anger and unwillingness to welcome back the repentant sinners to whom Jesus’ extends His mercy and forgiveness like the elder brother who would not welcome back his younger sibling. Also, there is another comparison that can be made to the Jews of the Old Covenant who jealously guarded their status as “firstborn sons.” The Jews are the “firstborn” sons, as God told Moses in Exodus 4:22, making all other nations of the earth the “younger sons” in the human family. The Jews refused to welcome their “younger brothers” of the Gentile nations into the New Covenant in Christ Jesus (see verses 29-30).
Don’t Miss the Irony
SERMON WRITER – Don’t miss the irony (cf Lk 15:28a) —”The brother who had been on the outside is now on the inside, while the brother who had been on the inside is now on the outside” (Bock, Darrell L., The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: Luke, Vol. 3 (Downers Grove, Illinois, Intervarsity Press, 1994), 260.
The Father Begs his Elder Son
SERMON WRITER – The father is as full of grace for his disobedient elder son as he was for his disobedient younger son. He comes outside to reconcile with the elder son just as he came outside to greet the younger son (cf Lk 15:28b). The difference is that the younger son was open to whatever his father might say, but the elder son has hardened his heart. This is a poignant moment. The father’s joy is shattered. He was celebrating having both sons under the same roof again, but now finds the elder son still outside, unwilling to enter the house or to take part in the celebration. The father was celebrating the end of his family’s brokenness, but now finds it broken in another place.
Reassurance (v 31-32)
My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.
SERMON WRITER – In his callous disregard for his brother and his refusal to enter the house, the elder brother sets himself apart, not only from his younger brother, but also from his father. His actions suggest to the community that he has divorced himself from the family, an act every bit as shocking as that of the younger son.
- The elder son did not use the word, “Father,” to address his father, but his father uses the word, “Son,” to address him. The father could have said huios (son), but instead says teknon (my child), an even more tender, inviting word (cf Lk 15:31).
- The elder son never acknowledges the younger son as his brother, but refers to him only as “this son of yours” (v. 30). The father refuses to let that stand, referring to his younger son as “this brother of yours” (cf Lk 15:32).
SERMON WRITER – What can the father say to reassure a son who will not be reassured? Where the younger son was receptive as a sponge, the elder son is hard as a rock. How can anyone not celebrate the resurrection of a loved one? The problem, of course, is that the elder brother does not love the younger brother—and there is some question whether he loves the father—and even some question whether he loves himself. Jesus does not tell us the outcome of the father’s plea, but we are left with the impression that the father has one repentant younger son and one unrepentant elder son.
🔴 CATHOLIC PRAXIS
ST JOSEMARIA ESCRIVA – “Human life is in some way a constant returning to our Father’s house. We return through contrition, through the conversion of heart which means a desire to change, a firm decision to improve our life and which, therefore, is expressed in sacrifice and self-giving. We return to our Father’s house by means of that sacrament of pardon in which, by confessing our sins, we put on Jesus Christ again and become his brothers, members of God’s family” (Christ Is Passing By, 64).
Related Page: Discussion Questions
CROSS REFERENCES SOURCE: B. Blayney, Thomas Scott, and R.A. Torrey with John Canne, Browne, The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, vol. 2 (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, n.d.).
1. And he said, A certain man had two sons:
12. And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.
13. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.
14. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
15. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
16. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.
AMBROSE. St. Luke has given three parables successively; the sheep which was lost and found, the piece of silver which was lost and found, the son who was dead and came to life again, in order that invited by a threefold remedy, we might heal our wounds. Christ as the Shepherd bears thee on His own body, the Church as the woman seeks for thee, God as the Father receives thee, the first, pity, the second, intercession, the third, reconciliation.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. de Patre et duobus Filiis.) There is also in the above-mentioned parable a rule of distinction with reference to the characters or dispositions of the sinners. The father receives his penitent son, exercising the freedom of his will, so as to know from whence he had fallen; and the shepherd seeks for the sheep that wanders and knows not how to return, and carries it on his shoulders, comparing to an irrational animal the foolish man, who, taken by another’s guile, had wandered like a sheep. This parable is then set forth as follows; But he said, A certain man had two sons. There are some who say of these two sons, that the elder is the angels, but the younger, man, who departed on a long journey, when he fell from heaven and paradise to earth; and they adapt what follows with reference to the fall or condition of Adam. This interpretation seems indeed a lenient one, but I know not if it be true. For the younger son came to repentance of his own accord, remembering the past plenty of his father’s house, but the Lord coming called the race of man to repentance, because he saw that to return of their own accord to whence they had fallen had never been in their thoughts; and the elder son is vexed at the return and safety of his brother, whereas the Lord says, There is joy in heaven over one sinner repenting.
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA. But some say that by the elder son is signified Israel according to the flesh, but by the other who left his father, the multitude of the Gentiles.
AUGUSTINE. (de Quæst. Ev. l. ii. qu. 33.) This man then having two sons is understood to be God having two nations, as if they were two roots of the human race; and the one composed of those who have remained in the worship of God, the other, of those who have ever deserted God to worship idols. From the very beginning then of the creation of mankind the elder son has reference to the worship of the one God, but the younger seeks that the part of the substance which fell to him should be given him by his father. Hence it follows, And the younger of them said unto his father, Give me the portion of goods which falleth to me; just as the soul delighted with its own power seeks that which belongs to it, to live, to understand, to remember, to excel in quickness of intellect, all which are the gifts of God, but it has received them in its own power by free will. Hence it follows, And he divided unto them his substance.
THEOPHYLACT. The substance of man is the capacity of reason which is accompanied by free will, and in like manner whatever God has given us shall be accounted for our substance, as the heaven, the earth, and universal nature, the Law and the Prophets.
AMBROSE. Now you see that the Divine patrimony is given to them that seek; nor think it wrong in the father that he gave it to the younger, for no age is weak in the kingdom of God; faith is not weighed down by years. He at least counted himself sufficient who asked, And I wish he had not departed from his father, nor had had the hindrance of age. For it follows, And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country.
CHRYSOSTOM. (ut sup.) The younger son set out into a distant country, not locally departing from God, who is every where present, but in heart. For the sinner flees from God that he may stand afar off.
AUGUSTINE. (in Ps. 70.) Whoever wishes to be so like to God as to ascribe his strength to Him, (Ps. 59:9.) let him not depart from Him, but rather cleave to Him that he may preserve the likeness and image in which he was made. But if he perversely wishes to imitate God, that as God has no one by whom He is governed, so should he desire to exercise his own power as to live under no rules, what remains for him but that having lost all heat he should grow cold and senseless, and, departing from truth, vanish away.
AUGUSTINE. (de Quæst. Ev. lib. ii. qu. 33.) But that which is said to have taken place not many days after, namely, that gathering all together he set out abroad into a far country, which is forgetfulness of God, signifies that not long after the institution of the human race, the soul of man chose of its free will to take with it a certain power of its nature, and to desert Him by whom it was created, trusting in its own strength, which it wastes the more rapidly as it has abandoned Him who gave it. Hence it follows, And there wasted his substance in riotous living. But he calls a riotous or prodigal life one that loves to spend and lavish itself with outward show, while exhausting itself within, since every one follows those things which pass on to something else, and forsakes Him who is closest to himself. As it follows, And when he had spent all, there arose a great famine in that land. The famine is the want of the word of truth. nIt follows, And he began to be in want. Fitly did he begin to be in want who abandoned the treasures of the wisdom and the knowledge of God, and the unfathomableness of the heavenly riches. It follows, And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country.
AUGUSTINE. (ubi sup.) One of the citizens of that country was a certain prince of the air belonging to the army of the devil, whose fields signify the manner of his power, concerning which it follows, And he sent him into the field to feed swine. The swine are the unclean spirits which are under him.
BEDE. But to feed swine is to work those things in which the unclean spirits delight. It follows, And he would have filled his belly with the husks which the swine did eat. The husk is a sort of bean, empty within, soft outside, by which the body is not refreshed, but filled, so that it rather loads than nourishes.
AUGUSTINE. (ubi sup.) The husks then with which the swine were fed are the teaching of the world, which cries loudly of vanity; according to which in various prose and verse men repeat the praises of the idols, and fables belonging to the gods of the Gentiles, wherewith the devils are delighted. Hence when he would fain have filled himself, he wished to find therein something stable and upright which might relate to a happy life, and he could not; as it follows, And no one gave to him.
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA. But since the Jews are frequently reproved in holy Scripture for their many crimes, how agree with this people the words of the elder son, saying, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment. (Jer. 2:5, Isa. 29:13.) This then is the meaning of the parable. The Pharisees and Scribes reproved Him because He received sinners; He set forth the parable in which He calls God the man who is the father of the two sons, (that is, the righteous and the sinners,) of whom the first degree is of the righteous who follow righteousness from the beginning, the second is of those men who are brought back by repentance to righteousness.
BASIL. (Esai. 3, 23.) Besides, it belongs more to the character of the aged to have an old man’s mind and gravity, than his hoar hairs, nor is he blamed who is young in age, but it is the young in habits who lives according to his passions.
TITUS BOSTRENSIS. The younger son then went away not yet matured in mind, and seeks from his father the part of his inheritance which fell to him, that in truth he might not serve of necessity. For we are rational animals endowed with free will.
CHRYSOSTOM. (ut sup.) Now the Scripture says, that the father divided equally between his two sons his substance, that is, the knowledge of good and evil, which is a true and everlasting possession to the soul that uses it well. The substance of reason which flows from God to men at their earliest birth, is given equally to all who come into this world, but after the intercourse that follows, each one is found to possess more or less of the substance; since one believing that which he has received to be from his father, preserves it as his patrimony, another abuses it as something that may be wasted away, by the liberty of his own possession. But the freedom of will is shewn in that the father neither kept back the son who wished to depart, nor forced the other to go that desired to remain, lest he should seem rather the author of the evil that followed. But the youngest son went afar off, not by changing his place, but by turning aside his heart. Hence it follows, He took a journey into a far country.
AMBROSE. For what is more afar off than to depart from one’s self, to be separate not by country but by habits. For he who severs himself from Christ is an exile from his country, and a citizen of this world. Fitly then does he waste his patrimony who departs from the Church.
TITUS BOSTRENSIS. Hence too was the prodigal denominated one who wasted his substance, that is, his right understanding, the teaching of chastity, the knowledge of the truth, the recollections of his father, the sense of creation.
AMBROSE. Now there came to pass in that country a famine not of food but of good works and virtues, which is the more wretched fast. For he who departs from the word of God is hungry, because man does not live on bread alone, but on every word of God. (Matt. 4:4.) And he who departs from his treasures is in want. Therefore began he to be in want and to suffer hunger, because nothing satisfies a prodigal mind. He went away therefore, and attached himself to one of the citizens. For he who is attached, is in a snare. And that citizen seems to be a prince of the world. Lastly, he is sent to his farm which he bought who excused himself from the kingdom. (Luke 14:18.)
BEDE. For to be sent to the farm is to be enthralled by the desire of worldly substance.
AMBROSE. But he feeds those swine into whom the devil sought to enter, living in filth and pollution. (Matt. 8, Mark 2, Luke 8.)
THEOPHYLACT. There then he feeds, who surpassed others in vice, such as are panders, arch-robbers, arch-publicans, who teach others their abominable works.
CHRYSOSTOM. (ut sup.) Or he who is destitute of spiritual riches, as wisdom and understanding, is said to feed swine, that is, to nourish in his soul sordid and unclean thoughts, and he devours the material food of evil conversation, sweet indeed to him who lacks good works, because every work of carnal pleasure seems sweet to the depraved, while it inwardly unnerves and destroys the powers of the soul. Food of this kind, as being swines’ food and hurtfully sweet, that is, the allurements of fleshly delights, the Scripture describes by the name of husks.
AMBROSE. But he desired to fill his belly with the husks. For the sensual care for nothing else but to fill their bellies.
THEOPHYLACT. To whom no one gives a sufficiency of evil; for he is afar from God who lives on such things, and the devils do their best that a satiety of evil should never come.
GLOSS. Or no one gave to him, because when the devil makes any one his own, he procures no further abundance for him, knowing him to be dead.
SOURCE: eCatholic 2000 Commentary in public domain.
17. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
18. I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
19. And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
20. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
21. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.
22. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
23. And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:
24. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.
GREGORY OF NYSSA. (Orat. in mul. peccat.) The younger son had despised his father when first he departed, and had wasted his father’s money. But when in course of time he was broken down by hardship, having become a hired servant, and eating the same food with the swine, he returned, chastened, to his father’s house. Hence it is said, And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, but I perish with hunger.
AMBROSE. He rightly returns to himself, because he departed from himself. For he who returns to God restores himself to himself, and he who departs from Christ rejects himself from himself.
AUGUSTINE. (de Quæst. Ev. lib. ii. qu. 33.) But he returned to himself, when from those things which without unprofitably entice and seduce, he brought back his mind to the inward recesses of his conscience.
BASIL. There are three different distinct kinds of obedience. For either from fear of punishment we avoid evil and are servilely disposed; or looking to the gain of a reward we perform what is commanded, like to mercenaries; or we obey the law for the sake of good itself and our love to Him who gave it, and so savour of the mind of children.
AMBROSE. For the son who has the pledge of the Holy Spirit in his heart seeks not the gain of an earthly reward, but preserves the right of an heir. These are also good husbandmen, to whom the vineyard is let out. (Matt. 21:41.) They abound not in husks, but bread.
AUGUSTINE. (ubi sup.) But whence could he know this who had that great forgetfulness of God, which exists in all idolaters, unless it was the reflection of one returning to his right understanding, when the Gospel was preached. Already might such a soul see that many preach the truth, among whom there were some not led by the love of the truth itself, but the desire of getting worldly profit, who yet do not preach another Gospel like the heretics. Therefore are they rightly called mercenaries. For in the same house there are men who handle the same bread of the word, yet are not called to an eternal inheritance, but hire themselves for a temporal reward.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. de Patre et duobus Filiis.) After that he had suffered in a foreign land all such things as the wicked deserve, constrained by the necessity of his misfortunes, that is, by hunger and want, he becomes sensible of what had been his ruin, who through fault of his own will had thrown himself from his father to strangers, from home to exile, from riches to want, from abundance and luxury to famine; and he significantly adds, But I am here perishing with hunger. As though he said; I am not a stranger, but the son of a good father, and the brother of an obedient son; I who am free and noble am become more wretched than the hired servants, sunk from the highest eminence of exalted rank, to the lowest degradation.
GREGORY OF NYSSA. (ubi sup.) But he returned not to his former happiness before that coming to himself he had experienced the presence of overpowering bitterness, and resolved the words of repentance, which are added, I will arise.
AUGUSTINE. (ubi sup.) For he was lying down. And I will go, for he was a long way off. To my father, because he was under a master of swine. But the other words are those of one meditating repentance in confession of sin, but not yet working it. For he does not now speak to his father, but promises that he will speak when he shall come. You must understand then that this “coming to the father” must now be taken for being established in the Church by faith, where there may yet be a lawful and effectual confession of sins. He says then that he will say to his father, Father.
AMBROSE. How merciful! He, though offended, disdains not to hear the name of Father. I have sinned; this is the first confession of sin to the Author of nature, the Ruler of mercy, the Judge of faith. But though God knows all things, He yet waits for the voice of thy confession. For with the mouth confession is made to salvation, since he lightens the load of error, who himself throweth the weight upon himself, and shuts out the hatred of accusation, who anticipates the accuser by confessing. In vain would you hide from Him whom nothing escapes; and you may safely discover what you know to be already known. Confess the rather that Christ may intercede for thee, the Church plead for thee, the people weep over thee: nor fear that thou wilt not obtain; thy Advocate promises pardon, thy Patron favour, thy Deliverer promises thee the reconciliation of thy Father’s affection. But he adds, Against heaven and before thee.
CHRYSOSTOM. (ubi sup.) When he says, Before thee, he shews that this father must be understood as God. For God alone beholds all things, from Whom neither the simple thoughts of the heart can be hidden.
AUGUSTINE. (de Quæst. Evan. l. ii. qu. 33.) But whether was this sin against heaven, the same as that which is before thee; so that he described by the name of heaven his father’s supremacy. I have sinned against heaven, i. e. before the souls of the saints; but before thee in the very sanctuary of my conscience.
CHRYSOSTOM. (ut sup.) Or by heaven in this place may be understood Christ. For he who sins against heaven, which although above us is yet a visible element, is the same as he who sins against man, whom the Son of God took into Himself for our salvation.
AMBROSE. Or by these words are signified the heavenly gifts of the Spirit impaired by the sin of the soul, or because from the bosom of his mother Jerusalem which is in heaven, he ought never to depart. But being cast down, he must by no means exalt himself. Hence he adds, I am no more worthy to be called thy son. And that he might be raised up by the merit of his humility, he adds, Make me as one of thy hired servants.
BEDE. To the affection of a son, who doubts not that all things which are his father’s are his, he by no means lays claim, but desires the condition of a hired servant, as now about to serve for a reward. But he admits that not even this could he deserve except by his father’s approbation.
GREGORY OF NYSSA. (ubi sup.) Now this prodigal son, the Holy Spirit has engraved upon our hearts, that we may be instructed how we ought to deplore the sins of our soul.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. 14. in Ep. Rom.) Who after that he said, I will go to my father, (which brought all good things,) tarried not, but took the whole journey; for it follows, And he arose, and came to his father. Let us do likewise, and not be wearied with the length of the way, for if we are willing, the return will become swift and easy, provided that we desert sin, which led us out from our father’s house. But the father pitieth those who return. For it is added, And when he was yet afar off.
AUGUSTINE. (ubi sup.) For before that he perceived God afar off, when he was yet piously seeking him, his father saw him. For the ungodly and proud, God is well said not to see, as not having them before his eyes. For men are not commonly said to be before the eyes of any one except those who are beloved.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. 10. in Ep. Rom. Greg. ubi sup.) Now the father perceiving his penitence did not wait to receive the words of his confession, but anticipates his supplication, and had compassion on him, as it is added, and was moved with pity.
GREGORY OF NYSSA. His meditating confession so won his father to him, that he went out to meet him, and kissed his neck; for it follows, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. This signifies the yoke of reason imposed on the mouth of man by Evangelical tradition, which annulled the observance of the law.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. de Patre et duob. Fil.) For what else means it that he ran, but that we through the hindrance of our sins cannot by our own virtue reach to God. But because God is able to come to the weak, he fell on his neck. The mouth is kissed, as that from which has proceeded the confession of the penitent, springing from the heart, which the father gladly received.
AMBROSE. He runs then to meet thee, because He hears thee within meditating the secrets of thy heart, and when thou wert yet afar off, He runs lest any one should stop Him. He embraces also, (for in the running there is fore-knowledge, in the embrace mercy,) and as if by a certain impulse of paternal affection, falls upon thy neck, that he may raise up him that is cast down, and bring back again to heaven him that was loaded with sins and bent down to the earth. I had rather then be a son than a sheep. For the sheep is found by the shepherd, the son is honoured by the father.
AUGUSTINE. (ubi sup.) Or running he fell upon his neck; because the Father abandoned not His Only-Begotten Son, in whom He has ever been running after our distant wanderings. For God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself. (2 Cor. 5:19.) But to fall upon his neck is to lower to his embrace His own Arm, which is the Lord Jesus Christ. But to be comforted by the word of God’s grace unto the hope of pardon of our sins, this is to return after a long journey to obtain from a father the kiss of love. But already planted in the Church, he begins to confess his sins, nor says he all that he promised he would say. For it follows, And his son said unto him, &c. He wishes that to be done by grace, of which he confesses himself unworthy by any merits of his own. He does not add what he had said, when meditating beforehand, Make me as one of thy hired servants. For when he had not bread, he desired to be even a hired servant, which after the kiss of his father he now most nobly disdained.
CHRYSOSTOM. (non occ.) The father does not direct his words to his son, but speaks to his steward, for he who repents, prays indeed, but receives no answer in word, yet beholds mercy effectual in operation. For it follows, But the father said unto his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him.
THEOPHYLACT. By the servants (or angels) you may understand administering spirits, or priests who by baptism and the word of teaching clothe the soul with Christ Himself. For as many of us as have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ. (Gal. 3:27.)
AUGUSTINE. (de Quæst. Ev. l. ii. q. 33.) Or the best robe is the dignity which Adam lost; the servants who bring it are the preachers of reconciliation.
AMBROSE. Or the robe is the cloke of wisdom, by which the Apostle covers the nakedness of the body. But he received the best wisdom; for there is one wisdom which knew not the mystery. The ring is the seal of our unfeigned faith, and the impression of truth; concerning which it follows, And put a ring on his hand.
BEDE. That is, his working, that by works faith may shine forth, and by faith his works be strengthened.
AUGUSTINE. (ut sup.) Or the ring on the hand is a pledge of the Holy Spirit, because of the participation of grace, which is well signified by the finger.
CHRYSOSTOM. (ubi sup.) Or he orders the ring to be given, which is the symbol of the seal of salvation, or rather the badge of betrothment, and pledge of the nuptials with which Christ espouses His Church. Since the soul that recovers is united by this ring of faith to Christ.
AUGUSTINE. (ubi sup.) But the shoes on the feet are the preparation for preaching the Gospel, in order not to touch earthly things.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. de Patre et duobus Filiis.) Or he bids them put shoes on his feet, either for the sake of covering the soles of his feet that he may walk firm along the slippery path of the world, or for the mortification of his members. For the course of our life is called in the Scriptures a foot, and a kind of mortification takes place in shoes; inasmuch as they are made of the skins of dead animals. He adds also, that the fatted calf must be killed for the celebration of the feast. For it follows, And bring the fatted calf, that is, the Lord Jesus Christ, whom he calls a calf, because of the sacrifice of a body without spot; but he called it fatted, because it is rich and costly, inasmuch as it is sufficient for the salvation of the whole world. But the Father did not Himself sacrifice the calf, but gave it to be sacrificed to others. For the Father permitting, the Son consenting thereto by men was crucified.
AUGUSTINE. (ubi sup.) Or, the fatted calf is our Lord Himself in the flesh loaded with insults. But in that the Father commands them to bring it, what else is this but that they preach Him, and by declaring Him cause to revive, yet unconsumed by hunger, the bowels of the hungry son? He also bids them kill Him, alluding to His death. For He is then killed to each man who believes Him slain. It follows, And let us eat.
AMBROSE. Rightly the flesh of the calf, because it is the priestly victim which was offered for sin. But he introduces him feasting, when he says, Be merry; to shew that the food of the Father is our salvation; the joy of the Father the redemption of our sins.
CHRYSOSTOM. (ut sup.) For the father himself rejoices in the return of his son, and feasts on the calf, because the Creator, rejoicing in the acquisition of a believing people, feasts on the fruit of His mercy by the sacrifice of His Son. Hence it follows, For this my son was dead, and is alive again.
AMBROSE. He is dead who was. Therefore the Gentiles are not, the Christian is. Here however might be understood one individual of the human race; Adam was, and in him we all were. Adam perished, and in him we all have perished. Man then is restored in that Man who has died. It might also seem to be spoken of one working repentance, because he dies not who has not at one time lived. And the Gentiles indeed when they have believed are made alive again by grace. But he who has fallen recovers by repentance.
THEOPHYLACT. As then with respect to the condition of his sins, he had been despaired of; so in regard to human nature, which is changeable and can be turned from vice to virtue, he is said to be lost. For it is less to be lost than to die. But every one who is recalled and turned from sin, partaking of the fatted calf, becomes an occasion of joy to his father and his servants, that is, the angels and priests. Hence it follows, And they all began to be merry.
AUGUSTINE. (ubi sup.) Those banquets are now celebrated, the Church being enlarged and extended throughout the whole world. For that calf in our Lord’s body and blood is both offered up to the Father, and feeds the whole house.
SOURCE: eCatholic 2000 Commentary in public domain.
25. Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing.
26. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.
27. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.
28. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him.
29. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:
30. But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.
31. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.
32. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.
BEDE. While the Scribes and Pharisees were murmuring about His receiving sinners, our Saviour put three parables to them successively. In the two first He hints at the joy He has with the angels in the salvation of penitents. But in the third He not only declares His own joy and that of His angels, but He also blames the murmurings of those who were envious. For He says, Now his elder son was in the field.
AUGUSTINE. (ubi sup.) The elder son is the people of Israel, not indeed gone into a distant country, yet not in the house, but in the field, that is, in the paternal wealth of the Law and the Prophets, choosing to work earthly things. But coming from the field he began to draw nigh to the house, that is, the labour of his servile works being condemned by the same Scriptures, he was looking upon the liberty of the Church. Whence it follows; And as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing; that is, men filled with the Holy Spirit, with harmonious voices preaching the Gospel. It follows, And he called one of the servants, &c. that is, he takes one of the prophets to read, and as he searches in it, asks in a manner, why are those feasts celebrated in the Church at which he finds himself present? His Father’s servant, the prophet, answers him. For it follows; And he said unto him, Thy brother is come, &c. As if he should say, Thy brother was in the farthest parts of the earth, but hence the greater rejoicing of those who sing a new song, because His praise is from the end of the earth; (Is. 42:10.) and for his sake who was afar off, was slain the Man who knows how to bear our infirmities, for they who have not been told of Him have seen Him. (See Isa. 53:4; 52:15.)
AMBROSE. But the younger son, that is the Gentile people, is envied by Israel as the elder brother, the privilege of his father’s blessing. Which the Jews did because Christ sat down to meat with the Gentiles, as it follows; And he was angry, and would not go in, &c.
AUGUSTINE. He is angry even also now, and still is unwilling to enter. When then the fulness of the Gentiles shall have come in, His father will go out at the fit time that all Israel also may be saved, as it follows, therefore came his father out and entreated him. (Rom. 11:26.) For there shall he at some time an open calling of the Jews to the salvation of the Gospel. Which manifestation of calling he calls the going out of the father to entreat the elder son. Next the answer of the elder son involves two questions; for it follows, And he answering said to his father, Lo these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment. With respect to the commandment not transgressed, it at once occurs, that it was not spoken of every command, but of that most essential one, that is, that he was seen to worship no other God but one, the Creator of all. Nor is that son to be understood to represent all Israelites, but those who have never turned from God to idols. For although he might desire earthly things, yet sought he them from God alone, though in common with sinners. Hence it is said, I was as a least before thee, and I am always with thee. (Ps. 7, 22.) But who is the kid which he never received to make merry upon? for it follows, Thou never gavest me a kid, &c. Under the name of a kid the sinner may be signified.
AMBROSE. The Jew requires a kid, the Christian a lamb, and therefore is Barabbas released to them, to us a lamb is sacrificed. Which thing also is seen in the kid, because the Jews have lost the ancient rite of sacrifice. Or they who seek for a kid wait for Antichrist.
AUGUSTINE. But I do not see the object of this interpretation, for it is very absurd for him to whom it is afterwards said, Thou art ever with me, to have wished for this from his father, i. e. to believe in Antichrist. Nor altogether can we rightly understand any of the Jews who are to believe in Antichrist to be that son.
And how could he feast upon that kid which is Antichrist who did not believe in him? But if to feast upon the slain kid, is the same as to rejoice at the destruction of Antichrist, how does the son whom the father did not entertain say that this was never given him, seeing that all the sons will rejoice at his destruction? His complaint then is, that the Lord Himself was denied him to feast upon, because he deems Him a sinner. For since He is a kid to that nation which regards Him as a violater and profaner of the Sabbath, it was not meet that they should be made merry at his banquet. But his words with my friends are understood according to the relation of the chiefs with the people, or of the people of Jerusalem with the other nations of Judæa.
JEROME. (in Ep. 21. ad Damasum.) Or he says, Thou never gavest me a kid, that is, no blood of prophet or priest has delivered us from the Roman power.
AMBROSE. Now the shameless son is like to the Pharisee justifying himself. Because he had kept the law in the letter, he wickedly accused his brother for having wasted his father’s substance with harlots. For it follows, But as soon as this thy son is come, who hath devoured thy living, &c.
AUGUSTINE. (ubi sup.) The harlots are the superstitions of the Gentiles, with whom he wastes his substance, who having left the true marriage of the true God, goes a whoring: after evil spirits from foul desire.
JEROME. (Ubi sup.) Now in that which he says, Thou hast killed for him the fatted calf, he confesses that Christ has come, but envy has no wish to be saved.
AUGUSTINE. But the father does not rebuke him as a liar, but commending his stedfastness with him invites him to the perfection of a better and happier rejoicing. Hence it follows, But he said to him, Son, thou art ever with me.
JEROME. (ubi sup.) Or after having said, “This is boasting, not truth,” the father does not agree with him, but restrains him in another way, saying, Thou art with me, by the law under which thou art bound; not as though he had not sinned, but because God continually drew him back by chastening. Nor is it wonderful that he lies to his father who hates his brother.
AMBROSE. But the kind father was still desirous to save him, saying, Thou art ever with me, either as a Jew in the law, or as the righteous man in communion with Him.
AUGUSTINE. (ubi sup.) But what means he that he adds, And all that I have is thine, as if they were not his brother’s also? But it is thus that all things are looked at by perfect and immortal children, that each is the possession of all, and all of each. For as desire obtains nothing without want, so charity nothing with want. But how all things? Must then God be supposed to have subjected the angels also to the possession of such a son? If you so take possession as that the possessor of a thing is its lord, certainly not all things. For we shall not be the lords, but the companions of angels. Again, if possession is thus understood, how do we rightly say that our souls possess truth? I see no reason why we may not truly and properly say so. For we do not so speak as to call our souls the mistresses of truth. Or if by the term possession we are hindered from this sense, let that also be set aside. For the father says not, “Thou possessest all things,” but All that I have is thine, still not as if thou wert its lord. For that which is our property may be either food for our families, or ornament, or something of the kind. And surely, when he can rightly call his father his own, I do not see why he may not also rightly call his own what belongs to his father, only in different ways. For when we shall have obtained that blessedness, the higher things will be ours to look upon, equal things ours to have fellowship with, the lower things ours to rule. Let then the elder brother join most safely in the rejoicing.
AMBROSE. For if he ceases to envy, he will feel all things to be his, either as the Jew possessing the sacraments of the Old Testament, or as a baptized person those of the New also.
THEOPHYLACT. Or to take the whole differently; the character of the son who seems to complain is put for all those who are offended at the sudden advances and salvation of the perfect, as David introduces one who took offence at the peace of sinners.
TITUS BOSTRENSIS. The elder son then as a husbandman was engaged in husbandry, digging not the land, but the field of the soul, and planting trees of salvation, that is to say, the virtues.
THEOPHYLACT. Or he was in the field, that is, in the world, pampering his own flesh, that he might be filled with bread, and sowing in tears that he might reap in joy, but when he found what was being done, he was unwilling to enter into the common joy.
CHRYSOSTOM. (Hom. 64. in Matt.) But it is asked, whether one who grieves at the prosperity of others is affected by the passion of envy. We must answer, that no Saint grieves at such things; but rather looks upon the good things of others as his own. Now we must not take every thing contained in the parable literally, but bringing out the meaning which the author had in view, search for nothing farther. This parable then was written to the end that sinners should not despair of returning, knowing that they shall obtain great things. Therefore he introduces others so troubled at these good things as to be consumed with envy, but those who return, treated with such great honour as to become themselves an object of envy to others.
THEOPHYLACT. Or by this parable our Lord reproves the will of the Pharisees, whom according to the argument he terms just, as if to say, Let it be that you are truly just, having transgressed none of the commandments, must we then for this reason refuse to admit those who turn away from their iniquities?
JEROME. (ubi sup.) Or, in another way, all justice in comparison of the justice of God is injustice. Therefore Paul says, Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Rom. 7:24.) and hence were the Apostles moved with anger at the request of the sons of Zebedee. (Matt. 20:24.)
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA. Which we also ourselves sometimes feel; for some live a most excellent and perfect life, another off time even in his old age is converted to God, or perhaps when just about to close his last day, through God’s mercy washes away his guilt. But this mercy some men reject from restless timidity of mind, not counting upon the will of our Saviour, who rejoices in the salvation of those who are perishing.
THEOPHYLACT. The son then says to the father, For nothing I left a life of sorrow, ever harassed by sinners who were my enemies, and never hast thou for my sake ordered a kid to be slain, (that is, a sinner who persecuted me,) that I might enjoy myself for a little. Such a kid was Ahab to Elijah, who said, Lord, they have killed thy prophets. (1 Kings 19:14.)
AMBROSE. Or else, This brother is described so as to be said to come from the farm, that is, engaged in worldly occupations, so ignorant of the things of the Spirit of God, as at last to complain that a kid had never been slain for him. For not for envy, but for the pardon of the world, was the Lamb sacrificed. The envious seeks a kid, the innocent a lamb, to be sacrificed for it. Therefore also is he called the elder, because a man soon grows old through envy. Therefore too he stands without, because his malice excludes him; therefore could he not hear the dancing and music, that is, not the wanton fascinations of the stage, but the harmonious song of a people, resounding with the sweet pleasantness of joy for a sinner saved. For they who seem to themselves righteous are angry when pardon is granted to one confessing his sins. Who art thou that speakest against thy Lord, that he should not, for example, forgive a fault, when thou pardonest whom thou wilt? But we ought to favour forgiving sin after repentance, lest while grudging pardon to another, we ourselves obtain it not from our Lord. Let us not envy those who return from a distant country, seeing that we ourselves also were afar off.
SOURCE: eCatholic 2000 Commentary in public domain.
Hearers of the Word
KIERAN 0’MAHONY, OSA – Augustinian friar and biblical scholar, currently assisting in Donnybrook parish (Dublin). He provides notes and commentaries in four formats: 1. PDF — the full notes, including weekday introductions, 5 pages. 2. The gospel notes only in audio format. 3. The gospel notes presented in a portable format suitable for smartphones and tablets. 4. YouTube video: A further exploration of the Gospel (usually) from a different angle.
Mass Readings Explained
DR BRANT PITRE– For the Mass Readings Explained for the 4th Sunday of Lent (Year C), the Church places before us the parable of the Prodigal Son in the Gospel reading. Often times, and understandably so, the emphasis is placed on the wayward younger son who takes his inheritance from his father and leaves to go to a distant land, only to then return to his father’s house asking for mercy and to be accepted back. However, there is much to be said regarding the older brother, who not only sees his relationship with his father as one of a servant rather than a son, but it is important to note how he, like the Pharisees who made a comment which launched Jesus into this parable, are being identified as the elder brother. They, like the elder son, despise the father’s mercy that he bestows upon the outcasts and the sinners. For more information, click here.
The Word Exposed
CARDINAL LUIS ANTONIO TAGLE – The Word Exposed with Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples reflects on Sunday’s Mass readings each week. From the Vatican, produced by Jesuit Communications.
The Word in the World
FR. ARUN PAUL is pastor of Saint John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Naples, Florida.
A Walk in the Word
Unpacking the Mass
KEITH NESTER – Former protestant pastor and Catholic convert Keith Nester engages in an exploration of the weekly texts from the Mass.
Centre for Christian Spirituality
The Word Proclaimed Institute
FR. FRANCIS MARTIN – Fr. Francis Martin +August 11, 2017, taught at the Gregorian University in Rome, the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem, Catholic University in Washington, D.C., Franciscan University of Steubenville), and the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C.