Commentary on Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
The parable of the Prodigal Son, a marvellous revelation of God’s unending love and mercy for the repentant sinner.
Steps in the story:
The son receives his share of the inheritance from a loving father. Asking for his inheritance while his father was still alive was tantamount to saying he could not wait until his father had died.
He goes off to a far country, far from his father.
He is not only far in distance but also in thinking: he wastes the inheritance he has been given in pleasures and enjoyment of the most immoral kind.
In the end, he has nothing.
A famine strikes the place and he has nothing to eat, no money to buy food.
He is forced (horror of horrors for a Jew) to feed pigs and is so hungry he is ready even to eat the slops given to them. One can hardly imagine a lower level of abasement and poverty.
Then, he comes to his senses.
He thinks of the home and the loving father he abandoned so stupidly.
Where the lowest servants/slaves are better off than he is.
He will try to go home.
After what he has done, he does not expect to be accepted back.
He will beg to be taken as one of the lowest servants.
He prepares a carefully worded speech for his father.
Then he starts the journey back in fear and trepidation. He knows he deserves very severe treatment, if not outright rejection. “Go back to your pigs and your whores!”
While still far away, the father sees him. He has been anxiously waiting all this time.
But he never sent out to have him brought back.
If the son wants to go his own way, the father will not stop him. He will not be forced back.
Full of compassion the father rushes out to welcome his returning son and takes him in his arms.
The son tries to make his speech of repentance but it is totally ignored.
Instead orders are given for the best clothes to be brought out and a magnificent banquet to be laid on.
“This son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.”
It is a time of celebration.
The elder son, working in the fields (the Lord’s vineyard) comes back at the end of a hard day and hears the sounds of merrymaking.
When he is told what is going on, he is extremely angry.
He has been a loyal, faithful, hard-working son and nothing even approaching this was ever done for him.
While his brother, who was steeped in debauchery and wasted so much of his father’s wealth, is welcomed like a returning hero.
He refuses to go into his father’s house. (Surely the saddest words in this story.)
The father remonstrates: “You are always with me and everything I have is yours.
But your son was utterly lost. Now he is back, we have to celebrate.”
The story is a clear reply to the criticism of the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus was mixing and eating with sinners. They simply did not understand the mind of God as revealed in Jesus’ behaviour. How well do we understand them?
The two clear lessons for today are:
- I can be absolutely sure of God’s mercy and forgiveness provided I turn back to him in true sorrow.
- I need to have the same attitude of compassion with people who offend me. I must be ready to forgive and be reconciled. I cannot refuse to love someone that God loves.
There are three people in this story and we can identify with all of them:
- The son who went far from his Father and followed his own way into the most degrading behaviour.
- The son who thought he was good and observant but, deep down, did not have the mind of his Father at all. He kept the commandments and all the rules but did not have a forgiving heart. He did not belong in his Father’s house.
- The Father whose love never changes no matter what his children do and is ready to accept them back every time without exception.
Which of these three most represents me? Which one would I want to be like? Many say they identify most with the elder son. Which, of course, is the point of the story. They are the real sinners – who shut their hearts against God’s compassionate love.