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Luke 15.1-3, 11-32
All the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’
So he told them this parable: ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe – the best one – and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.
‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”‘
The parable of the Prodigal (or Lost) Son is one of the most famous of Jesus’ parables. It shines the spotlight upon the motivations of every one of us. It is a parable that examines our greed and self interest. It examines our capacity to exploit and reject others, even those closest to us. It demonstrates God’s unlimited love and forgiveness for those who come to realize the folly of their very human ambitions and actions.
The story of the son who takes his share of the family wealth and squanders it is well known. Having fallen into the most desperate of conditions, he realizes that it is only by returning to the loving arms of his father that he will find the comfort and consolation of forgiveness and the warmth of genuine welcome. The dissolute son shows us what true repentance can achieve as he turns around and follows the new road that will bring him home, rather than leaving him lost in the wilderness.
Of course, there is a second brother in this parable. He is someone who has remained loyal to his father. He is the one who has worked hard and not wasted his inheritance. But, he is also the one whose journey is far from complete.
The elder brother, the one who stayed at home, is the one who showed no humility or joy in his faithful behaviour. When his younger brother left home there was a sense of his having gone from their lives for ever. He had gone to make his own way in life, rejecting all that he knew, and all who had nurtured him from birth. The younger brother was dead to the family, he had chosen to become cut off and exiled. Then, one day and without any warning, he came back. He did not come back in splendour, rather he returned as the lowliest of his father’s servants. The younger brother had swallowed his pride and admitted his total failure, and the elder brother was angry at his father’s rejoicing.
The words and actions of the elder brother show us the path that Christ does not want us to follow in this life. Jesus is showing us how unconditional God’s love is for humanity. Jesus is also showing us how unconditional our love should be for our fellow human beings. This message of love and forgiveness runs throughout the gospel narrative and, sadly, it flies in the face of our very human instincts.
Let us pray that we may learn the message of this famous parable. Let us pray that we may set aside our sense of human ‘justice’ and become more Christ-like in our love and acceptance of others.