Reflection: 31st March 2019

A Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

Lk 15: 1-3, 11-32. ( )

An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.

The words ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth’from the Gospel of Matthew are often seen as a warning against violent retribution. However, considering today’s gospel reading - the parable of the Prodigal Son - the saying gains new meaning in terms of how we should show forgiveness.

This gospel advises us against any form of barter system for the forgiveness that we confer and receive. The parable’s popularity can be said to stem from its versatility. We have all, at some stage, found ourselves in situations similar to those encountered by the three main characters.

We empathise with the son in this narrative as there is not a person among us who can claim to have never made similar brash decisions which were later a source of regret. Ultimately, the son realised the error of his ways, seeking forgiveness from his father by imploring him to “treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.” 

Yet the son’s true failure was not the manner in which he squandered his prematurely gifted inheritance, nor was it the sinful life that he had led while away from home; it was his inability to understand that his father's love knew no bounds.

Equally, we sympathise with the sense of disappointment, envy and injustice experienced by the aggrieved older brother when he witnesses how the prodigal son is rewarded.  Believing his unwavering loyalty would buy his father’s love, the older brother laments: “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.” 

What the older brother fails to comprehend is that his father’s love is not economical; there is no exchange rate on the level of forgiveness that his father bestows.

With that in mind, we must try to be like the father by not viewing forgiveness as his sons do - as a commodity to be bought and sold - but instead as a gift which is freely given. Although it is hard to forgive unconditionally, we need to remember the father in the parable: God’s love is given unselfishly, extravagantly and without the expectation of return.

Anthony Gallagher - Anthony is a Religious Education teacher in St. Mary's College Rathmines.