To read the texts click on the texts: Jos 5:9-12; 2Cor 5:17-21; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32
Parable of the Prodigal son is more aptly named the Parable of the Prodigal
father. The real prodigal, profligate, wasteful character in the story is not
so much the son as it is the father. It is the father who is wasteful in his
love. It is the father who is profligate in his forgiveness. It is the father
who is prodigal in his unconditional mercy and compassion. This Parable is
unique to the Gospel of Luke and is set in the context of the murmurings of the
Pharisees and scribes because Jesus eats with “tax collectors and sinners”.
is no rationale in the demand of the younger son. His demand was such that it
would result, not only in breaking family ties, but also in regarding his
father as dead. The father, however, holds back nothing. He gives all he can
give to his son; he gives his very life. The granting of the demand of the
younger son results in his progressive estrangement. He first leaves home and
his father and goes to a faraway country. He also mismanages the money given to
him. He spends it all on loose living. His descent into poverty and deprivation
is swift. He descends so low that he agrees to work for a gentile, in a gentile
land, tending swine. Swine were an abomination to Jews, who were prohibited from
raising swine. The man who would dare to breed swine was considered cursed. The
younger son becomes a total destitute.
when he is at the depth of his degradation and in the midst of mire and filth,
he comes to his senses. That he is serious about his return is shown in his
actions. He prepares his act of contrition, his plea for mercy and then, gets
up from the mire and begins the journey to his father. While the son is still a
long way off, the father runs to meet him. In the first century, it was
considered undignified for grown men to run. The father sets aside respect and
dignity. The son begins his speech but is not allowed to complete it. The
father interrupts his son even before he can finish, He gives instructions to
his servants to bring a robe, a ring, and sandals, all of which indicate that
the son is given back his original place as son. The call to kill the fatted
calf is a sign that the return of the son is to be regarded as a time of
celebration. The dead son has come alive. The lost son has been found. All sin
is forgiven, all iniquity is pardoned, and all guilt is erased by the embrace of
father and son.
This, however, is only one part of the parable and has to do with the vertical dimension and reconciliation. It has to do with one’s relationship to God.
The second part of
the parable, in which the elder son is introduced, has to do with the
horizontal dimension and is equally or possibly more important. The elder son neither addressed
his father, as father, nor his brother, as brother. His focus is on merit and
what he thinks is rightfully his. This also leads him to point to the faults of
the younger son, his brother. His father, however, wants him to focus on the
joy and delight of welcoming his brother who has come back from darkness to light
and from death to new life.
While many of us can resonate with the first and third parts of the parable, namely the demand of the younger son for his share and the unforgiving attitude of the elder son, we find it extremely difficult to believe or even fathom the centre of the parable which concerns the forgiveness of the father. There are two possible reasons for this. The first is that our image of God is warped. We concentrate only on the judgement, anger, and wrath of God. We forget God’s unconditional mercy and love as revealed in Jesus. The second reason is that we expect God to behave with us like we behave with others. Since we are often unforgiving, like the elder son, we think that God will be unforgiving with us as well. However, the truth is that we have been loved first. We have been forgiven first and we have been pardoned first. We have been accepted totally and completely by God.
Even the first reading of today speaks of the mercy that
God had on the people when God rolled away the disgrace of Egypt for Israel and
they were given the privilege of eating of the produce of the land. God erased
their sin and accepted them, even with their failings and their faults.
The readings of today throw up a dual challenge. The first is to believe, and know, that God forgives unconditionally no matter how grave our sin might be. It is to accept totally the immeasurable depth of God’s boundless love. It is to realize, in the depths of our hearts, that God is always willing to take us back. The second challenge that follows from the first, and is related to it, is our acceptance and forgiveness of others as God forgives us.
This is the
challenge that Paul issues to the Corinthians in the second reading of today
when he invites them to be ambassadors for Christ. Anyone who claims to be a
disciple and follower of Christ has become a new creation and has been
reconciled to God.