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Bible Reflections View Comments

We Are Children, Not Hired Hands
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, March 10, 2013
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Today’s Gospel tells the familiar story of the Prodigal Son. One reason this story works so well to convey the message of the Gospel is because at different times in our lives, we can identify with one or another of the characters. Family dynamics are inescapable for most of us. Our families of origin shape our most basic ways of relating to other. Often the way we see our workplaces, our world, our religious institutions, and even our God is rooted in our experience of family.

Some of us can identify with the rebellious younger son who loses himself in pleasure and adventure. We also may know what it’s like to come to our senses and realize that somewhere we’ve taken a wrong turn.

When we realize that the road we have been following, the life we have been leading, may not be the one that is best for us, we must have the humility to admit that we have strayed, that we have been mistaken, that God knows better than we the life that will lead us to him. We must resolve to say, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.”

Nothing is more difficult than admitting that we have failed, that we have sinned. We feel haunted by the past, we rehearse the role that we feel lies ahead, we practice confessing our weaknesses.

Many of the burdens we carry from our past have to do with not being able to forgive ourselves. Until we can do that, we can’t believe that God—or anyone else—is able to forgive us. We cannot stay in the desert forever, wandering in despair. No matter how much we rehearse our role, no matter how willing we are to do penance and suffer and taken on the heavy burden of our guilt, in the end the greatest humility is accepting the role the Lord has written for us.

Others identify with the older son, the dutiful one who stayed at home and played by the rules and never put a foot over the boundaries of life. We can’t understand why God the Father would reward sinners and chastise those who are righteous and law-abiding. We don’t see that being intolerant and merciless toward others can also be sin.

There are also the rare ones among us who can identify with the lavishly forgiving father in the Gospel. All they ask is that their children come home. This kind of unconditional love is difficult but not impossible.

We must accept our roles as sons and daughters of God. We refuse his great gift of love when we insist that we’re only hired hands. This is the mistake the elder son makes. In the story, he says he’s slaved for his father all his life. What he doesn’t realize is that like his brother, he, too, is a son.

We are all children of the Father, we have all sinned, but we are all welcome in our Father’s house. We must live as a forgiving and as a forgiven people. This sounds easy, but in fact it can be quite difficult. This may be why so many of Jesus’s parables talk about forgiveness. The very prayer he taught us has forgiveness at its heart. And the same Gospel writer who tells the story of the Prodigal Son shows Jesus on the cross forgiving the very people who crucified him.

Take time this week to reflect on your own experiences of family—good and bad—and how a parable like the Prodigal Son taps into those experiences.


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First Martyrs of the Church of Rome: There were Christians in Rome within a dozen or so years after the death of Jesus, though they were not the converts of the “Apostle of the Gentiles” (Romans 15:20). Paul had not yet visited them at the time he wrote his great letter in 57-58 A.D.. 
<p>There was a large Jewish population in Rome. Probably as a result of controversy between Jews and Jewish Christians, the Emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome in 49-50 A.D. Suetonius the historian says that the expulsion was due to disturbances in the city “caused by the certain Chrestus” [Christ]. Perhaps many came back after Claudius’s death in 54 A.D. Paul’s letter was addressed to a Church with members from Jewish and Gentile backgrounds. </p><p>In July of 64 A.D., more than half of Rome was destroyed by fire. Rumor blamed the tragedy on Nero, who wanted to enlarge his palace. He shifted the blame by accusing the Christians. According to the historian Tacitus, many Christians were put to death because of their “hatred of the human race.” Peter and Paul were probably among the victims. </p><p>Threatened by an army revolt and condemned to death by the senate, Nero committed suicide in 68 A.D. at the age of 31.</p> American Catholic Blog People are not perfect. But God does not only call upon great saints to reveal his love for the world. He also calls the broken and desperate. We are all called to act as God’s light in this darkening world.

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