Sunday of the Prodigal Son
The Gospel reading appointed for this day is an illustration of repentance, diligence, and of steadfast love.
In this parable, our Lord tells us of a man who had two sons. These sons lived with their father where all that was necessary and good for their wellbeing was provided and available. In addition, the father had seen to it that each son would receive a generous inheritance of his wealth to take care of their future needs.
The younger son, demonstrating impatience, lack of contentment, and succumbing to the seduction of the world, asked for his inheritance in advance and left his home to go to a far country where he wasted his money and himself on the lusts of this world. After he had already squandered his fortune and reached his lowest point, the Gospel tells us that he ‘came to himself’… he came to a moment of realization, of seeing clearly the state he was in, and this was a moment of crisis. The young man lamented his sorry state and turned in repentance – reasoning that he would go home and, even if he could only be hired on as a servant within his father’s estate, he would be better off than continuing in his current misery. And so, he took action and in humility he returned to his home.
The Gospel tells us that while he was still a long way off, his father was watching and saw him and - moved with great joy and compassion - he ran and fell upon his neck and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, I am no longer worthy to be called thy son.’ But the father was overjoyed to recover this lost sheep that was his son and commanded that a great feast be prepared in celebration of the return of he who was lost and is now found.
But the parable does not end here… it goes on to tell us about the other son; the faithful son, who had stayed behind all those years and diligently carried out his father’s work, doing everything right and remaining home at his father’s side. This son, we are told became upset when he saw all the fuss being lavished upon his brother. His father came out to him to invite and encourage him to come into the feast, but the brother protested, remarking that he had never betrayed his father, had always been loyal and diligent. The father replied: ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’
We know this Gospel story as the parable of the Prodigal Son, and yet there are three characters here and each one of them contains a lesson for us.
Do you recall how last week we spoke about the Publican and the Pharisee? We noted how easy it is to focus on the Publican as the ‘good guy’ of the story. His humble prayer was pleasing in God’s sight. And yet, we noted how we also have much to learn from the Pharisee as well… the one who diligently fasted, who faithfully gave alms to the poor, who did all that he was supposed to do according to the Law. We reflected that both characters have meaning for us as we approach the season of Great Lent. The exemplary discipline and diligence of the Pharisee must not lead to pride and self-satisfaction. If our spiritual disciplines are to be fruitful, they must lead us to that contrite and humbled heart of the Publican. And likewise, that contrite and humble heart, which calls out for and receives God’s abundant and generous mercy, must then respond to that grace and mercy with an effort to keep His commandments.
Let us see what each of the characters from today’s Gospel have to say to us as well…
First of all, we have the prodigal son himself. There is so much for us to recognize about ourselves in how he was lured and seduced by the enticements of this world. How he was willing to forsake his father’s dwelling to go off to that far country where he indulged his passions. And yet, God grant that we might also see something in ourselves as he ‘came to himself’… as his conscience called out to him and showed him his sins. And may his example instruct us, that we respond to that call of our conscience and take action to turn away from that sin and return to our father’s house.
Secondly, we have the diligent older brother. Perhaps somewhat like last week’s Pharisee, here is another character who ‘does everything right’. He never strays away from home, he dutifully fulfills all that is required of him, he is a good and devoted son. Yet, when the errant younger brother finally returns from his escapades, the older brother is jealous and indignant over the attention lavished upon the prodigal. If anyone was to be rewarded with the fatted calf, it should have been him!
And this brings our attention to the third character of this story… the father. The wisdom and the constancy of the love of the father is perhaps the most remarkable factor of this Gospel tale.
Neither the prodigality and repentance of the one son, nor the faithful dutifulness of the older son changes the steadfast love of the father. Both sons misunderstood the nature and the stability of his love. One thought that he could lose it by straying so far away… the other thought that he could earn it by doing everything right. The reality is that the father’s love neither decreased toward the prodigal son, nor did it increase toward the obedient son. The father’s love remained constant in its outpouring toward his children.
And so it is with God’s love toward us. His love is constant and true. The variable factor is us. We can duck into the dark cave of sinfulness and avoid His light, but if we turn back to Him, that Light of God awaits us with open arms. We might also think to earn that Light and Love by our efforts. Those efforts don’t change God’s unchanging Light and Love… those efforts, if they are done with a correct and contrite heart, change us – opening our hearts to perceive and receive greater doses of that Light and Love.
This is the call of our Lord’s Gospel parable and this is the call of our Holy Mother Church as she prepares us for Great Lent. It is a call of repentance! It is a call to a correct understanding of what our Lenten efforts should be about! It is a call to the breaking of our hearts to see the constancy of our Father’s Love… a Light which is offered to us to the degree to which we will receive it.