The Greatest Story Ever Told

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Joshua 5:9A, 10-12

The LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.” While the Israelites were encamped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, they celebrated the Passover on the evening of the fourteenth of the month. On the day after the Passover, they ate of the produce of the land in the form of unleavened cakes and parched grain. On that same day after the Passover, on which they ate of the produce of the land, the manna ceased. No longer was there manna for the Israelites, who that year ate of the yield of the land of Canaan.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21

Brothers and sisters: Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

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 and eats with them.” So to them Jesus addressed this parable: “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”

In this 4th Sunday of Lent, we have a great privilege to read Jesus’ greatest parable, the Tale of the Prodigal son. It reminds me of the book, The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen. It depicts every fine detail and the spiritual reflections of the magnificent painting of the same name by Rembrandt. It is such a wonderful and most enjoyable book which I have read. It is the greatest story ever told that speaks so eloquently of who God is, and how we may nurture a right relationship with Him.

As Jesus begins the parable, we hear that the younger son, who represents a sinner, egre-giously insults his father by demanding his inheritance immediately. “Give me my share of your estate that should come to me” (Lk 15:12). Three times he has emphasized “Me”, which is heart of the problem. The father, who is oblivious to the insult, gives the boy exactly what he wants. It underlines a deeper spiritual meaning, in which many of us want the gifts of God (good life, success, health, and love) as our own possessions without a right relationship with the giver. This will never work spiritually. Our God, a transcendental source, is the one who gives, and He exists in gift form. When we wander away from the source and refuse to acknowledge it, the gifts dry up. This is when the younger son wanders into a space, “chóra makros” in Greek, meaning “a great wide emptiness”. This is where we go to when we wander away from the source. The parable further lays out this state of moral deterioration, “a severe famine struck that country…, but nobody gave him any” (Lk 15:14-16). As if his spiritual emptiness is not enough, a famine breaks out that highlights his poverty, both physical and spiritual, more poignantly. This spiritual language shows that when we divorce from God, we will have no life. In fact, we will become less than human, “to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed” (Lk 15:16). Furthermore, in this “chóra makros”, no one would give him anything as he wanders into the land of calculation, contract, and exchange. In contrast, it is the land of rich graciousness and gratuitous giving where his father lives!

Having hit bottom, the young boy “went back to his father” (Lk 15:20). As we are all sin-ners, we find ourselves many times in this space throughout our life. We may be living a materially rich life but divorce from God, or on a path of self-indulgence but have hit rock bottom, like the prodigal son. This is the land where we wander into, and we inevitably dry up. The key is that we have to decide to return. God is love, but because of his gracious love, He always respects our freedom. Without freedom, our lives would not be ours. Therefore, it is a decisive and an absolutely indispensable process to muster the freedom, the courage, and the energy, to turn back. Grace floods the moment when this happens. All these times the father has been waiting and watching, and the moment when he sees him, “he runs to his son” (Lk 15:20). How embarrassing it is! In Jewish tradition, an older man would sit, and people would come to him. For an old man to run is extremely undignified, so is our God, full of grace! He embraces the young man and says, “bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger” (Lk 15:20). In the painting of “The Return of Prodigal Son”, Rembrandt shows us that when the father puts his arms around his younger son, the light does not come from any sources outside, but it radiates out from the father himself. How beautiful! Our God lavishes his love on us, and he wants to bring us back into his circle of grace. This grace is above all joyful as it is a true celebration, a “big feast” as the parable describes. Jesus says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (Jn 15:11). That is the attitude of the father. The Bible is a story of God who relentlessly pursues for us. Our God, who wants nothing more than to bring us back into the circle of grace, would humiliate himself, and go to any ridiculous streams to “seek the lost, bring back the strays” (Ezk 34:16).

Are we ready to enter into the rhythm of grace? Are we ready to respond to this Father, who wants nothing more for us than to become fully alive? Let this rich parable sink in, wash over us, move us into the dynamics of the story, and illuminate where we are spiritually.

This is an excerpt from Bishop Robert Barron’s homilies, including
“The Prodigal Son”, “The Father and the Son”, and “The Lesson of the Prodigal Son”. For more information, please visit

Posted: March 31, 2019

Ben Cheng


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