To read the texts click on the texts: Ex 32:7-11,13-14; 1Tim 1:12-17; Lk 15:1-32
The Parable in the Gospel text of today is popularly known as “The Prodigal Son.” However, a more apt title is “The Prodigal Father.” This is because the son is prodigal only with material things. It is the father who is the real prodigal in the story. It is the father who is lavish. It is the father who is wasteful. It is the father who is a spendthrift, but with his love. The prodigality of the father’s love shines through the whole story.
Demanding his share of the property while his father was still alive would mean that the younger son regarded his father as dead. The younger son’s selfishness and self-centeredness led him to concentrate only on his own wants. The needs of the other did not matter. Despite this offensive and rude demand, the father gives the younger son what he demands. The father will be selfless. He will hold nothing back. For the father, the son’s wants are greater than his own needs. The selfishness of the son reaches its depths when he spends all that he receives from his father for his own pleasure and enjoyment.
This is the selfishness shown by the people in the first reading of today when they make “gods” of things. They are so caught up in their own desire for pleasure and gratification that they will stoop down to making things ends in themselves. They forget that the one end is God. However, like the father in the Gospel text, God shows that, despite the people’s selfishness, God will be selfless. Despite their abandoning God, God will not abandon them. Though by right, and in justice, God ought to have let God’s wrath burn against the people, God relented and, after listening to Moses, did not bring on them the destruction that was intended. God’s love exceeds mercy and this love is shown in giving people a chance to change, a chance to repent. The repentance that the people are called to is shown by the younger son in action. When he is in dire straits and at the lowest depth of his life, he comes to his senses. He realizes that he can go back. He realizes that there is mercy. He realizes that his father’s love will take him back. However, the reality of the father’s welcome goes beyond the younger son’s expectations. He is not even allowed to finish the act of contrition that he had prepared. He is not allowed to finish speaking his words of remorse and regret. His father does not need words. His father does not need to know how many sins his son has committed. His father does not ask for an account of the money that he squandered, nor does he impute guilt to his son. It is enough for the father that his son has come home. It is enough that his son who had gone away has returned. It is enough that the son, who was lost and dead, is now found and alive.
The Apostle Paul experienced this mercy and love and he speaks about this in the second reading of today. God did not count his sins against him. God did not hold his wrong doings in front of his face. God forgave his blasphemy. God showed him mercy. This mercy is intrinsic to God and is borne out by the name that the Son of God bears: Jesus. It is the name which means God saves from sin. It is a name which means that, no matter how far away we might go, no matter how many graces we squander, no matter how many sins we commit, God, in Jesus, will ever love and forgive.
If this is so evident why do so many people find it difficult to believe that God is good and loving, that God is forgiving and merciful, and that God’s mercy always outweighs human sinfulness? The answer to this is found in the second part of the Parable of the Gospel text and in the attitude of the elder son. For him, like for many of us, the relationship with his father is one of quid pro quo or barter exchange, rather than love. He is good only because he hopes to receive reward. He does not address his father as “Father”, nor does he refer to his brother as “brother”. He distances himself from both his father and his brother and attaches himself to his own merit and fidelity. He argues his case on the grounds of what he thinks he rightfully deserves. Even as he does this, he points to the failings of the younger son.
The elder son represents all of us who think we can make it on our own, all of us who might be proud of the kind of lives we live. He represents all of us who have an image of God as one who must reward us for the good that we do and a God whom we dare not displease because we might be punished. However, even to persons such as these, God continues to reach out in love. God continues to plead with such persons to realize that their good actions must not stem from a desire for reward or from a fear of punishment. Good actions must be the consequence of having received God’s unconditional mercy and love. They must be the result of having been loved. All persons must love and forgive unconditionally because that is the way God loves and forgives them.