March 27, 2022


Reflection for the Fourth Sunday in Lent,
March 17, 2022 (Gospel: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32)

By: The Rev. Erahvilla Maga-Cabillas

UP Parish of the Holy Cross, Diliman, Q.C.

One of the famous and most loved parables, as I can recall from my younger days in our parish, is about the Prodigal Son. This was enacted twice in a play during the closing of our Flores de Mayo, the one month-long Summer Vacation Church School.  It is also one of the lengthier parables of Jesus in the Gospel narratives of the New Testament, the Sacred Scriptures of the Christians. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is also known as the Parable of the Two Brothers, Lost Son, Loving Father, or of the Forgiving Father.  This parable of Jesus appeared or can only be found in the Lukan Gospel which Jesus shared with His disciples, the Pharisees, and others.

To date, the Lukan Gospel has recorded three of the Jesus’ most well-known parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. The common theme in all three parables is that “something was lost”. In the case of the lost sheep and the lost coin, a search was made to find the lost object; while in the prodigal son the message was to go back or to return to the rightful owner. The theme of “The Prodigal Son” is that it does not matter how far we stray or get lost from our Heavenly Father, or how much we squander or misuse the gifts He provides; He is always delighted when we turn back to Him. His unconditional love is waiting for us to return home where He greets us with open arms. Each person is precious to God, who celebrates the return of one who is lost, because God is ready to receive sinners who come to Him in repentant faith. Another lesson is that believers should not be jealous when God blesses and saves those who come to God with repentance.

But what is meant to be “prodigal”? In the parable we can read about a son who receives his inheritance and travels to a distant country, wastes all his money in wild extravagance, becomes desperately poor, returns to his father, and is received with open arms. Prodigal, here and elsewhere, means rashly/recklessly or wastefully extravagant. I can never forget the late Fr. Simplicio Almocera every time he had his sermon on the prodigal son. Our late parish priest always emphasized that God had a loving and forgiving heart.  Well, no question about it.

Well as a parent, a father (or the absence of a mother): first, because he loved his son so dearly and missed him so much from his long absence; and, two, because he said his son had repented, came back and humbled himself, even to the point of asking to become a servant, not demanding that he had his old life back. The father saw that his son had greatly changed! It touched the father’s loving and forgiving heart on the change of action and the attitude of his younger son. In verse 12, the son was demanding for his inheritance, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ However, upon return, his willingness to ask for forgiveness and change of behavior became central to the idea of the father’s forgiveness as depicted in verse 21 where the son humbled himself, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ In the same way that God forgives humans, so humans have to forgive those around them. If people fail to do so, they cannot expect to be forgiven by God. 

What is a parable then? The parables of Jesus are found in the Synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke, and some of the non-canonical gospels: Thomas, Mary Magdalene, and others. They form approximately one-third of Jesus’ recorded teachings. Christians place great emphases on these parables, which they generally regard as the words of Jesus. Jesus' parables are seemingly simple and memorable stories, often with imagery, and all teach lessons in our daily lives. Scholars have commented that although these parables seem simple, the messages they convey are deep and central to the teachings of Jesus. Christian authors view them not as mere similitudes or resemblances that serve the purpose of illustrations, but as internal analogies or parallels in which nature becomes a witness for the spiritual world.

Many of Jesus' parables refer to simple everyday things, such as a woman baking bread (the parable of the Leaven), a man knocking on his neighbor's door at night (the parable of the Friend at Night), or the aftermath of a roadside mugging (the parable of the Good Samaritan); yet they deal with major religious themes, such as the growth of the Kingdom of God, the importance of prayer, and the meaning of love. 

In Western civilization, these parables formed the prototype or model for the term parable and in the modern age, even among those who know little of the Bible, the parables of Jesus remain some of the best-known stories in the world. These explain why most of the readers or listeners of the Parable of the Prodigal Son tend to equate the “father” to God. The association to God is likely strong because it was coming from Jesus. It is also common in sermons, homilies and reflections to illustrate that God is speaking to all of us through the parables. Because Christians do believe these are from Jesus. The forgiving act is a two-way process: acknowledgement of sinfulness and willingness to change to renew one’s life on our part, and the acceptance of the one who forgives us, who is God. In this parable, the “father” is always referred or understood to be God.

However, I would like to underscore that following this line of thought, we tend to miss the context of its original audience. Verses 1-2 says, “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” So He told them the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The parable was intended for the listeners in the first place. Those who were around Jesus at the actual scene when the parable was told were mixed people: tax collectors, sinners, Pharisees and the scribes. Each had his own purpose because each came near to Jesus. Surely, they were not repentant in the first place. I don’t want to appear being judgmental but this group of people especially the Pharisees and the scribes had their own intentions why they were following Jesus; why they were monitoring Jesus. I would like to add there were others who were just curious or mere passers-by; those paid to follow Jesus; and those who were plotting to kill him.

In my reflection, I appreciated Jesus’ creativity to let them hear the parable of the prodigal son, right then and there.  “So He told them this parable (verse 3).”   Though the first two parables, the lost sheep and the lost coin, were short ones but the emphasis on searching the lost illustrates the message of reaching out, the initiative or “pagkukusa nang may-ari na hanapin,” in contrast to the third parable, of the prodigal son who was lost and came back. The “pagkukusa” or the initiative now comes from the one who left or who abandoned.  

In our present context, the lost or those who went astray are manifold and already high-tech.  They also know how to come back because it is clear in our belief that we have a forgiving, loving and welcoming father. It is stated by Jesus, i.e., forgiving seventy times. Although we have differing interpretations about our Father in heaven, we know that churches being the embodiment of God are one and united in our search and coming back to the Source. Churches are known for prayers and charities, but it can never be denied that as we in the Philippines celebrated the 500 years of Christianity, we are still in the cauldron of immense hostilities among nations, fearing the advent of a Third World war!  Churches have never yet facilitated stopping a war. But, yes, we can pray!  The Roman Catholic Church through Pope Francis even did a service of consecration for Russia and Ukraine.  The vilification of church workers, coupled with red-tagging, implicating to terrorism and communism, and all types of markings by the State and all forces, and providing armaments of war, have fueled the atrocities and violence.  

Where are we amiss, may I ask? Are the hearers, the audience in Jesus’ time translated into our own time and in our context, yet well-defined? How can learning be continually obscured?  In simple terms, are we not yet in the process of returning or coming back with humble hearts? How I wish and pray that the One in heaven Who incarnated will remain with us through the Sanctifier to continue to energize us and for us to realize that the original message of the parable is significantly meant for us, too. Take heed, we pray. Amen.



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