Saturday of Week 2 of Lent – Gospel

Commentary on Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

The parable of the Prodigal Son is a marvellous revelation of God’s unending love and mercy for the repentant sinner. In the story, the son demands and 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 then goes off to a far country, far from his father. He is not only far away in distance, but also in thinking. He wastes the inheritance he has been given on pleasures and enjoyment of the most immoral kind. And in the end, he has nothing.

When a famine strikes the place he is living, he has nothing to eat and 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.

But then, he comes to his senses. He thinks of the home and the loving father he abandoned so stupidly. A home where the lowest servants and the slaves are better off than he is, and he decides he will try to go home. But after what he has done, he does not expect to be accepted back. He decides he will beg to be taken in as one of the lowest servants, and he prepares a carefully worded speech for his father.

Then he starts the journey back in fear and trepidation, knowing he deserves very severe treatment, if not outright rejection. He is afraid to hear his father say, “Go back to your pigs and your whores!”

But while still far away, his father sees him. Unknown to the son, his father has been anxiously waiting and hoping during all this time for him to return, 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, and he will not force him to come 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, his father gives orders for the best clothes to be brought out and a magnificent banquet to be laid on:

…for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!

It is a time for 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 becomes extremely angry. After all, he has been a loyal, faithful, hard-working son and nothing even approaching this was ever done for him. Yet his brother, who was steeped in debauchery and wasted so much of his father’s wealth, is welcomed like a returning hero.

Because of this, the elder son refuses to go into his father’s house (surely some of the saddest words in this story). The father remonstrates, saying:

…you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But…this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.

We have to celebrate, says the father.

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?

The two clear lessons from today’s Gospel 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.
  • 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 who are the real sinners are those who shut their hearts against God’s compassionate love.

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