March 21, 2004          4th Sunday Lent (C) Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32


St. Patrick’s parish is in Kowloon, Hong Kong.  There are four weekend Masses including a children’s Mass at 10:45, Sunday.  This is the parish where I was formerly pastor. [email protected].  Cf. also Social Concerns Education: --   Fr. Gene Thalman M.M.]


            Mrs. Au-Yeung always complained that she married below her station.  She had an important job in an office.  Her husband had a lowly job in the Hong Kong sanitation department.  She often scolded him, pointed out his faults and nagged him for not “making something of himself.” He would just listen quietly. When Mr. Au-Yeung died, Mrs. Au-Yeung was surprised at the hundreds of people attending his funeral.  Each person told her of the way her husband had helped them…how one time he risked his life to save an old lady from a fire in her apartment…how after work he would do shopping for the sick…how he was a good listener and always gave wise he cheered up the depressed with jokes.   Mrs. Au-Yeung was surprised and said: “We had been married for forty-two years but I guess I never really knew the kind of man he was.”




 To understand today’s parable, we have to go to the first three verses. Jesus was eating with tax collectors and sinners. Well some Pharisees and the scribes murmured:  “This man welcomes sinners and eats [ugh!] with them.”  And so Jesus: “addressed this [these three] parable [parables] to “them.” The “them” are the Pharisees and scribes.  This is a parable for scribes and Pharisees.


            Now Luke was writing for the gentile Christian communities.  Luke didn’t have it “in for” the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.  But rather than scold the early Christian communities, Luke records how Jesus scolded the Pharisees of his day.  Of course the early Christians knew that Luke was warning them not to act like the Pharisees. And the Church has chosen today’s reading so that we Christians of St. Patrick’s community will avoid “the sin” of the Pharisees.  This morning we ask: “What is the sin of us Pharisees?”


            In today’s parable, Jesus describes the “Pharisee-sin”.


            In this parable the “elder son” represents the Pharisee. And his sin was his failure to recognize the kind of man his own father was.


            Despite his many sins, the younger son had a better idea than his brother of the kind of man his father.  While sitting with the pigs in the stinking pigpen, he reasoned: “If I apologize to my father, eat humble pie, get my bottom chewed out, agree to be a servant, agree to a long probation period, my father might be willing to hire me as a servant.”  The younger son knowledge of his father was good as far as it went but he still had a long way to go to discover the kind of man his father was.


            But the main character in this parable is not the merciful father nor the younger brother.  The main character is the elder brother, the Pharisees and all of us Pharisees in our Church this morning. 


I think most of us can sympathize with the feelings of the elder brother—which goes to show that we are truly Pharisees.


The elder brother had a good case. While his little brother was “living it up” spending his inheritance on, cigarettes, whiskey, wild-wild women, the dependable older brother was sweating in the fields.  It was only natural that he considered himself a model son…and that he should feel sorry for himself because his brother left him to shoulder all the responsibility.


            It is little wonder that when elder brother hears music and dancing, discovers his brother has returned via a family servant. He could smell the fatted calf roasting on the spit. And to top it all off, his father never had the common courtesy of informing him.  If we were the elder brother, we too would get fleas up our armpits and be angry.


            So why does the elder brother turn out to be the villain in this parable?  He did not know what kind of person his father was.  He had lived with his father all his life but never really knew his father. 


He should have known how sad his father was at his brother’s departure and how everyday the old man waited at the gate hoping his son would return.  Did he wait for months or years?  If the elder son really knew his father, he would not have been surprised that his father went bananas when his brother returned… He should have known that his father would at the first sight of his returning son… would grab his cane run down the road like a racehorse.


He would not have been least surprised that his father would hug his brother… kiss his son despite the pig smell…and before his son can get his humble apology out of his mouth, the father interrupts and starts giving orders to the servants: “give him a bath…put on my finest robes …put a ring on his finger…put new shoes on his bare feet…kill the fatted calf…and celebrate.”  And if the elder son knew the kind of man his father was, he would not have been the least surprised that his father had forgotten to send a servant to break the news to his older son.  And if the elder son really knew his father, he would have slapped his brother on the back, gave him hug and danced with his brother and everybody else at the party.  Unfortunately, the elder son along with the fatted calf saw no reason to celebrate.        


This elder son had a working relationship--— a contractual arrangement with his father-- but not a personal acquaintance with his father.  The elder son thought that if he worked hard in the field, people would think well of him.  He expected to be rewarded with an inheritance and all the neighbors would respect him as a dutiful son.




Few of us sitting in Church this morning, ever ran away from home, dissipated our family inheritance in cigarettes, whiskey and wild, wild women.


Instead we are like the Pharisaical elder brother—for whom this parable was written.


God gives us many hints of the kind of person he is.  Each of us has experienced the wonders that God has created.  Each of us has experienced God’s love and care.  Each of us has experienced his gentleness and mercy and the kind of things that gets God’s goat.  I hope that none of us, like Mrs.Au-Yeung, will wait forty-two years because we discover the kind of person that God is.


Sacred Scripture is the book that tells us what God is like and how he feels about each of us and all his creatures. Scripture is full of revelations into way of behaving. Jesus took flesh and became one of us and told us parables so that we could have an even clearer idea of what our God is like.


1.  During this Lenten season in our prayers, our scripture reading, our Easter

      celebrations, we can constantly ask this question: “What’s God like?”   Pin the 

     question up on your mirror.


2.  During our daily Scripture reading, write down notations of God’s surprising



FINALE:   If you will try to respond in some such way, please stand-up and recite the Creed which describes the kind of God that God is.




March 21, 2004          4th Sunday Lent (C) Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32




TWO WORDS:  Kind of God


THEME:  Elder son did not really know his own father.


TEXT:  “But we had to celebrate and rejoice.”  (Luke 15: 32)


DESIRED RESULT: During the past week, I thought a lot about the people that I dislike, and I kept asking myself: “How does God feel about this person?  Is he precious to God?  Did Jesus die to save this lady?  How precious are these people to God?”



CHURCH’S POINT OF VIEW: “The Church ‘forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful…to learn “the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ,” by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ [God].”’”  St. Jerome, Catechism of the Catholic Church, (Mission Hills: Benziger Publishing Co, 1994), #133, p. 37.


Chewing, Digesting and DOING God’s Word

March 21, 2004          4th Sunday Lent (C)      Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32

NAME_________ Grade_____________


1.  Why do you think the younger son left home? ____________________.


2.  Jesus directed today’s parable to what class of people?  ______________.


3.   Give here reasons why the younger son was surprised when he returned home? 

      A.  ________________         B. _____________________   C. ________________________.


4.   What significance did the Son’s return have for the fatted calf? _______________________ 


5.   (Optional)  Tell a time when you discovered that God was a special kind of person

      for you.


     [I would be interested in knowing if any of our readers find these questions

     of any use.  Suggestions?    Gene Thalman  [email protected]]