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9/11 and the Prodigal Son

                                                   24th Sunday in Ordinary Time: September 11, 2016


Today is September 11, 2016. Exactly 15 years ago today an event happened that changed history. On September 11, 2001, 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked 4 airliners and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States. Two planes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon just outside of Washington D.C., and the fourth crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. Over 3,000 people were killed including over 400 police and firefighters.


It was one of those events that everyone will remember for the rest of their lives. Everyone remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing. The 9/11 event became a benchmark for a whole generation of young Americans influencing their attitudes about service, terror, and hope. Of course, since it was 15 years ago, many young people born later in time, do not remember the event except for what they learned in history.


There are some human beings, when given the means and methods are capable of doing great evil. We do not have full control over that. But what we do have full control over is how we respond. That is what we should reflect on today, just how do we respond to evil? Just how do we respond to injustice?


Our Gospel today is the parable of the “Prodigal Son.” This is perhaps the most famous parable that Jesus told. There are many injustices in the parable, and there are many responses. The prodigal son asks for his share of the inheritance and leaves. The Father must have been deeply hurt. It is as if the son said to the father, “Drop dead.” The father responds by saying nothing. The prodigal son then blows the entire inheritance and ends up with nothing. He is hired to feed pigs. Jews were not allowed to have anything to do with pigs, the prodigal son does it anyway because he is broke. The owner of the pigs doesn’t care, he won’t even let the son eat the pig food. So the son returns home, the father is thrilled, the older brother is furious. The father kills the fatted calf. Now remember, the father already divided the estate, so the fatted calf belonged to the older brother. So what happened here is that the father gave the older brother’s fatted calf to the prodigal son. How would you have reacted?


WE do not have full control over what other people do. But we do have full control over how we respond. How do we respond to evil? How do we respond to injustice? The gospel tells us how, like the Father. But this is not easy. In fact it is extremely difficult. Human nature wants to get even. Most people find it hard to let go of wrongs done to them. Some go through life harboring grudges, making themselves miserable because they will not let bygones be bygones. Because we feel like this, we imagine a God like this too. We picture God as waiting to settle accounts with us someday. Because we can be vindictive, we project this attitude onto God. How different the picture of God that Jesus presents…not an angry God who is just waiting to judge us harshly, but rather a God who wants to be close to us. The true God is like the loving parent who has lost a child, and cannot rest until the child is back in the house. When we encounter violence, hatred, or injustice, we do not like it, we do not condone it, we cannot have to ignore it, and we cannot put up with it. But we cannot respond in kind: we cannot respond with more violence, hatred, or injustice.


In conclusion, Martin Luther King Jr. said it best: “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” The story of the Prodigal son has no clear ending. We don’t know if the elder brother went into the house to join the celebration, or if he stayed outside seething with anger. There is no ending because it is not just a story; it is a parable with a challenge to each of us. How would you end the story? Would you go in, or stay outside?  Amen,


Fr. Terry Hazel

Sunday Readings

Exodus 32:7–11, 13–14

“They have quickly turned aside from the way I commanded them, making for themselves a molten calf and bowing

down to it.”

1 Timothy 1:12–17

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost.”


Luke 15:1–32

“There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people.”