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Thoughts from the Early Church
Fourth Sunday of Lent C
March 10. 2013

Commentary by John Chrysostom
Your brother here was dead and has come to life.

All that God looks for from us is the slightest opening and he forgives a multitude of sins. Let me tell you a parable that will confirm this.

There were two brothers: they divided their father’s goods between them and one stayed home, while the other went away to a foreign country, wasted all he had been given, and then could not bear the shame of his poverty.

Now the reason I have told you this parable is so that you will understand that even sins committed after baptism can be forgiven if we face up to them. I do not say this to encourage indolence but to save you from despair, which harms us worse than indolence.

The son who went away represents those who fall after baptism. This is clear from the fact that he is called a son, since no one is called a son unless he is baptized. Also, he lived in his father’s house and took a share of all his father’s goods.

Before baptism no one receives the Father’s goods or enters upon the inheritance. We can therefore take all this as signifying the state of believers. Furthermore, the wastrel was the brother of the good man, and no one is a brother unless he has been born again through the Spirit.

What does he say after falling into the depths of evil? I will return to my father.

The reason the father let him go and did not prevent his departure for a foreign land was so that he might learn well by experience what good things are enjoyed by the one who stays at home.

For when words would not convince us God often leaves us to learn from the things that happen to us.

When the profligate returned after going to a foreign country and finding out by experience what a great sin it is to leave the father’s house, the father did not remember past injuries but welcomed him with open arms.

Why? Because he was a father and not a judge. And there were dances and festivities and banquets and the whole house was full of joy and gladness.

Are you asking: “Is this what he gets for his wickedness?”

Not for his wickedness, but for his return home; not for sin, but for repentance; not for evil, but for being converted.

What is more, when the elder son was angry at this the father gently won him over, saying: "You were always with me, but he was lost and has been found; he was dead and has come back to life."

“When someone who was lost has to be saved,” says the father, “it is not the time for passing judgment or making minute inquiries, but only for mercy and forgiveness.”

(On Repentance, Homily 1, 3-4: PG 49, 282-283)

John Chrysostom (c.347-407) was born at Antioch and studied under Diodore of Tarsus, the leader of the Antiochene school of theology. After a period of great austerity as a hermit, he returned to Antioch where he was ordained deacon in 381 and priest in 386. From 386 to 397 it was his duty to preach in the principal church of the city, and his best homilies, which earned him the title “Chrysostomos” or “the golden-mouthed,” were preached at this time. In 397 Chrysostom became patriarch of Constantinople, where his efforts to reform the court, clergy, and people led to his exile in 404 and finally to his death from the hardships imposed on him. Chrysostom stressed the divinity of Christ against the Arians and his full humanity against the Apollinarians, but he had no speculative bent. He was above all a pastor of souls, and was one of the most attractive personalities of the early Church.

Edith Barnecut, O. S. B. As a consultant for the International Committee for English in the Liturgy, Sr. Edith was responsible for the final version of many of the readings in the Liturgy of the Hours.
Copyright © 1994, New City Press.
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Journey with the Fathers
Commentaries on the Sunday Gospels
- Year C, pp. 36-37.
Edith Barnecut, O. S. B., ed.
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