Fourth Sunday of Lent


Today’s gospel (Luke 15:1-3,11-32) is the not so obvious story of the Prodigal Son or, better, of the Two Brothers. Like Martha and Mary in the story about contemplation and action, these two syblings seem estranged and conflicted but are also inseparable. What is at stake is not a choice between them but the need to improve their relationship. They are all aspects of our self. As in the world of a dream, the teaching parables of Jesus only seem to occupy a dualistic realm. In fact they are non-dual, opposites are reconciled, as in all the deeper levels of consciousness itself.

The younger brother suffers from impatience and a craving for pleasure. It is a natural aspect of youth, which also suffers from the fear that it will not be possible to pack into life all the overwhelming experience that is seen to be possible. This leads to excess and imprudence and to exhaustion of the spirit of creativity. Go too far and you will end up in the pigsty of unsatisfied desires.

It seems that he comes to his senses. But actually he merely conceives a formula of apology and self-preservation that he hopes will win his father around. His father however is so blissed out by recovering his lost son that he forgets to rebuke him. The boy’s false humility falls flat against the father’s own peculiar kind of excess – the extravagance of an unconditional love. That’s the last we hear of this young profligate. He ceases to be an interesting character until he might actually come to his senses and see what his father is truly like.

Enter his elder brother, who suffers from the opposite set of problems. Not loose living and impatience but self-righteousness and affective constipation. He seems to have neither love nor hate in him, merely uptightness, self-obsession and jealousy. Take your pick between them, choose your poison. They both fail abjectly to realise what an amazing dad they are blessed with. We don’t hear any more about this brother either after the father has explained to him how accepted and valued he is.

Now the curtain falls on the story and we are left to complete it with our own interpretation by absorbing its implicit meaning and entering into the dream-world and finding our true selves there. Only when the two brothers are united, and Martha and Mary become friends again, can our self again be true.

How could both brothers be so unobservant and so self-obsessed? Unaware of the total lack of self-centredness in the father they seem condemned to a prison of self-inflicted woundedness. When, if ever, will they see what an ocean of love is seeking to flood their shrivelled hearts?

The Dalai Lama said once that, if he could ask Jesus one question, it would be ‘what is the nature of the Father?’ Jesus will probably reply, ‘I heard this story once about a father who had two sons..’

2 thoughts on “Fourth Sunday of Lent

  1. I am so pleased to see this. For several years I have started to understand Jesus’ parables as internal dramas, especially the Prodigal. That I am, we are all, both the prodigal son, the elder brother and (even) the Father. So I the prodigal rush out into the world and enjoy its pleasures and end up in a pig sty, having spent my inheritance. Then I return home, repent, and my superego elder brother tells me what an idiot I have been (even, potentially, horrifically, stands in the way of my returning to my father), but my father rejoices, forgives, accepts me back. I’m surprised in a way that you think the prodigal son is somehow half hearted – it always seems to me he has truly learnt the lesson of humility, so that even his elder brother’s bitterness and disdain does not stop him asking his father to let him be one of his lowest servants.

    Another parable where this struck me particularly strongly was the parable of the tares, and also of the sower. The weeds that spring up, but that will be left until the harvest, are all those parts of us we reject, we judge, we think hold us back. But trying to tear them up before the harvest is ready will only destroy the good crop along with the weeds.

    Similarly, in the parable of the sower, there are parts of us that simply do not hear, or rush enthusiastically off with the good news, and then get distracted. Only the real heart of ourselves hears the word, accepts it, and nurtures it. We may hear many wise things in our lives, but only occasionally will they take root and bear fruit.


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