27th March, 2022

The 4th Sunday of Lent, C

Detail from Rembrandt Return of the Prodigal Son

Probably many of us, listening to the Gospel about the prodigal son, remember the picture painted by Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, which I guess is well known throughout the world. In this beautiful painting, we can see today’s gospel scene, and more specifically a father who tenderly hugs his son, who is dressed in torn and dirty clothes – that is how Rembrandt imagined this scene told by Jesus. Our attention is drawn to the many interesting details in this picture. But what attracts the greatest attention – are the two hands of a father hugging his son. One of them is bigger and the other is definitely smaller. One is a man’s hand and the other is the hand of a woman. One of them is a symbol of strength and bravery, and the other is a symbol of sensitivity and warmth. It is a beautiful picture of a beautiful parable that we consider today on the 4th Sunday of Lent. Both the parable and the painting tell us about God’s love for each of us, about his waiting for our return and about his forgiveness. Someone once said something very interesting, that this is not a parable about a prodigal son, but rather a parable about a merciful and loving father.

Although I have never had the privilege of seeing Rembrandt’s original work of art, I have seen a copy of this beautiful picture many times in various places: in churches, in private homes, in schools. I remember that a couple of years ago when I was in one of my previous parishes, one day I received a small poster from my parishioners – this copy of Rembrandt’s artwork. For a few weeks I was wondering where I could put this poster, and finally I attached it onto the door of the confessional box. For many reasons – including my personal ones – I found this to be the most appropriate and the best place.

We may ask why did Jesus actually tell a parable about the prodigal son? We can find the answer to this question in the gospel of Saint. Luke. We have just heard: The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and scribes complained: This man welcomes sinners and eats with them. So, Jesus used to: talk to sinners, sit with them at the table and enjoy their company, all for the purpose of convincing them that God is always ready to forgive and show His infinite mercy. Let us try to look at the protagonists of today’s Gospel in this context. The figure of the younger son is so close to us for many reasons, but especially because it gives us hope that – coming back to God – we will never be rejected by Him. It is true that the prodigal son’s behaviour was wrong, nothing can justify him, he committed a terrible sin by despising and leaving his father. As we remember the consequences of his sins and mistakes came very quickly: poverty, hunger, humiliation and loneliness. But even in this difficult situation, he still remembered the love and happiness he had experienced in his family home. Thankfully, at some point in his life he matured, understood all the mistakes he had made and finally he made the best decision to convert and return. When we look at the figure of the younger son, we can ask ourselves about our decisions and our attitudes. Comfort, money, the illusion of an easy and pleasant life attracts many people even now. But even if we do not commit such great errors and sins and do not leave our heavenly Father to such an extent, it is worth asking: Do we have enough humility and courage to admit our small mistakes and sins? Do we try and do we want to return to the father’s house, as Canon Michael encouraged us to do a week ago telling us about confession? He apologized to me – joking of course – for giving me and Fr Ebin extra work, but today I want to do exactly the same. I would like to invite you to go to confession before Easter. As you can see in our parish’s bulletin, we will have two days of confession in the parish: Wednesday – April 6 and Thursday – April 7. Please think about it.

And finally, the older son. He did not leave home; he did not leave his father and did not hurt or despise anyone. But he found it difficult to accept that his father was so generous that he forgave his younger brother. And this might be similar in our lives. Very often, although we are still with God, we participate in the life of the Church, receive the sacraments and pray every day, we cannot accept the fact that people who do not believe in God very often seem to have an easier and happier life. Then we are like the older brother in today’s gospel – we are with God, we think we have never let him down, but we are not happy being close to him because we are jealous.

And finally – the father. Two sons came back home: the younger and the older one. It is very interesting and moving that their father showed them the same love. We can also experience the same love and forgiveness in the sacrament of confession, to which we come not alone, but God himself brings us there. Then he forgives us and says to his servants: Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it, we are going to have a feast, a celebration, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life, he was lost and is found.

Fr Gregory