March 27, 2022
Chapter 15 in the Gospel according to St. Luke, begins with Jesus engaged with the pharisees and scribes who object to his association with public sinners, outcasts, and despised tax collectors.
He tells three parables: a shepherd leaving 99 sheep to find the lost one; the woman searching her house for a lost coin; and the father waiting and watching for the return of his son.
Jesus tells parables to convey the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. God is like the shepherd, God is like the woman and God is like the father. Jesus is inviting his listeners to enter the story and become part of it. That is certainly true in his telling of the parable known as the "Prodigal Son."
"Prodigal" means "wasteful" or "extravagant."
The word can be used in reference to the youngest son, to his father and to the older brother - the eldest son.
"Prodigal" aptly describes the younger son who wastes his inheritance. A fool and his money are soon parted. The younger son is both reckless and careless - he has little concern for his father. He asks for his inheritance before his father even dies as if to say, “I can't wait for you to die." He takes his inheritance and squanders it. He realizes what he has done wrong only when he finds himself in dire circumstances eating the slop given to pigs.
"Prodigal" describes the father who goes against all cultural norms. He waits and longs for his youngest son's return. When he sees his wayward son coming, the father runs to meet him, embraces him, and kisses him - an extravagant show of love! He welcomes the boy back with a robe, a ring, sandals, and a banquet.
The older brother, when he hears of the merrymaking, refuses to come in. He is "prodigal" too willing to squander his father's affection, his relationship with his father and status as eldest son by imprisoning himself in anger and resentment.
We can identify with the wayward youngest son. There are certainly moments of selfishness and foolishness as we grow up. We can identify with the older son when we become stuck in resentment and anger perceiving life is unfair. There are moments too when we can identify with the father as we receive and extend forgiveness. Lent is all about identifying with the characters in Jesus' parable. Lent is all about God's mercy and our coming home.
Jesus tells the story, and we are left to write the ending. Will the older brother come in from the isolation of his resentment and be reconciled with his brother? Will he come to enjoy the table of reunion and unconditional love with his father? How we end the story says something about ourselves.
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