Lenten Devotional by Rev. Rick Malloy, S.J.

The Lenten Daily Devotional is a project of The Jesuit Center in partnership with University Advancement.
Rev. Rick Malloy, S.J.
Rev. Rick Malloy, S.J.

The Lenten Daily Devotional is a project of The Jesuit Center in partnership with University Advancement. Read the daily devotionals, here.

Parable of the Loving Father

Miss Stanton, the first-grade teacher asks little Johnny, “If you had one dollar and you asked your father for another, how many dollars would you have?”  Johnny replies, “One dollar.”  The teacher says, “Johnny, you don’t seem to understand arithmetic.”  Johnny says, “Miss Stanton, you don’t know my Dad!”

Today’s gospel offers us the image of a generous Dad, a forgiving Dad, a fantastic Father who is Love.  Such is our God.

Jesus delivers this truth about our God by telling a parable, a story that stuns and stings with a moral challenge: we too are to love those who do us wrong, those who fail and flounder, those who seemingly don’t deserve or merit our love.  We are to reach out to the “losers”: the last and the least, the lonely and the lost.

The first thing to note is who is present listening to the parables of the Lost sheep, the Lost coin, and the Lost Son in chapter 15 of Luke’s gospel.  “The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain saying, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ ”

The Pharisees weren’t bad guys.  They were desperately trying to keep the Jewish people from being changed by the values and lifestyles of the hated Roman overlords and the Greek culture of the times.  Rather than realizing that the religious rules of Moses, the law, were made for the human family to help us grow happy and free, they saw those who could not live up to the law as those worthy of being shunned and ostracized.

Jesus radically reimagines God.  Jesus’ God, the Father, loves us and wants the best for us.  God doesn’t want to punish us.  God wants to “set things right” (Isaiah 1:18).

And thus the story of the two stupid sons, or better, the generous and forgiving Father.  It is the tale of an irresponsible and immature boy, who literally wishes his father dead so he can get the inheritance coming to him.  After wasting all he is given, he is reduced to utter poverty and degradation, willing to eat the food of unclean animals, pigs.  

On “coming to his senses” he realizes the only salvation is going back to his father.  He humbly realizes even being a servant in his father’s house is better than his present condition.
Surprisingly, the father rushes to greet him, lavishes gifts on him, throws a big party!

And who is not happy?  The older son.  He disrespectfully addresses his father: “LOOK, all these years I’ve served you…”  He’s stamping his foot like the kid in the Brady Bunch, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!”

The parable challenges us to think about how God wants us to reflect about the “sinners” in our world and how we might engage them in a way that does not blame or bring shame.  God wants us to accept and treat repentant sinners as the father treats the lost son.

On another level, this parable shows we are deeply challenged to “set things right” in our families.  These two are brothers, where it seems the older had great difficulty forgiving his younger brother or attending the great feast given for this young man who was once lost but has now been found again.  This gospel passage also challenges us to consider ways we might reconcile with others, especially estranged family members.  After all, who of us does not have a family member with whom we ought to reconcile?

Not an easy message today.  But no one ever said being a disciple of Jesus would be easy.

Rev. Rick Malloy, S.J.
University Chaplain 

Read all the daily devotionals, here.

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