March 31, 2019
IV Sunday of Lent, year C
We can read today’s Gospel passage (Lk 15:1-9) from the two places where the scene takes place. It is a very well-known piece used in many circumstances. We pause on some brief considerations. A key to interpretation, which helps us approach the text, is linked to the fact that in both these places, differently, there is a symbology related to food.
The first place is the father’s house, which is described just like a house where there is plenty of food. When the youngest son is away, at a time when he finds himself hard pressed, thinking of his father’s house, he remembers it as a place where they eat, where the bread is not lacking, and it’s for everyone: the servants also have it in abundance (Lk 15:17).
And when the son returns home, the father, totally excited, immediately prepares a banquet: “take the fattened calf, kill it, let us eat and celebrate” (Lk 15:23). This banquet is emphasized several times (Lk 220.127.116.11), and always returns in the text to relate the father’s way of acting: the father nourishes, feeds, celebrates with eating. It is undoubtedly an Old Testament recall. In the OT, life with God is presented as a banquet.
The second place is the one where the younger son is found when he leaves home, where he squanders all the wealth he has inherited. There the symbology is always linked to food but in a diametrically opposite manner. There is a great famine (Lk 15:14), and the son states that he is about to die of hunger (Lk 15:17). If there is someone that eats, it’s the pigs (Lk 15:16), while the son would have been content to eat their food, but “no one gave him.”
On the one hand, therefore, there is a father who feeds everyone abundantly, even servants, and on the other, there is a son who became a servant, to whom, however, nobody gives anything, not even the food of pigs.
We can stop and reread these elements of the parable, to say that man’s vocation is to participate in the banquet that the Father prepares for all his children that banquet where He feeds us with Himself, with His life, with life that circulates inside his house. It is an abundant, good, free food, which the Father wishes to give us (cf. Is 25: 6).
And the sin of man is nothing other than getting away from this banquet, falling from this privileged condition in which life is given to us, to feed on a food that does not satisfy, a food that, in the end, makes us die of hunger. The younger son pulls away from the house where he is a son and arrives in a place where he is a servant, where he is treated worse than an animal, where he loses all dignity, where no one cares about his life. It is a place of solitude and death.
But the father and the prodigal son, as we know, are not the only two protagonists in the parable. There is also another son, the eldest, who remains at home, but, despite living in abundance, he does not eat a bread that satisfies him. That is, he doesn’t experience things in life as a sign and a sacrament of the father’s love, he doesn’t understand that everything he receives he receives it from his love. And it’s as if he had nothing: he too, in reality, dies of hunger.
The journey of Lent, today, takes us to this house, where we are children; where the possibility of a full life is prepared for us, provided however that we recognize that everything comes from the Father and everything is given to us freely. It is not the fruit of our work, an award that we must deserve.
It is the very relationship we have with Him that feeds us, a relationship that then opens us to our brother, with whom we share the same bread.
It is a house that we are unable to live in permanently, and from which we often move away, but to which it is always possible to return.
Cover photo: ©commons.wikipedia.org