Today’s Gospel is one of the world’s most famous stories. This is because it speaks to us as humans, as individuals, in a powerful way. But the fact that it is so well known can be a stumbling block. When we hear it in Church we are at risk of listening on a peripheral level only, losing the power of the story that first-time listeners might feel.
The story is one of perspectives: the two perspectives of the brothers, and the changing perspective of the brother who squandered his father’s money. It is also a story in which we meet God through the brothers’ father, who welcomed the wayward son with great rejoicing, as well as acting as a mediator between his two sons.
The wayward son was extremely selfish. It is important to remember that he asked for his share in his father’s inheritance before his father was dead. In a way, this is like wishing his father was dead. Once he has squandered the money, his change of heart comes, it must be stated, through catastrophic need rather than through any simple stirring of the heart. This reminds us that, sometimes, our own need for God begins in a similar place, and we are then gifted, as was the son, with the grace to enter back into his family and accept love as well as to give it back. It can be through great hardship that we find our path back to the Creator.
There are two dramatic moments in the story. The first is when the father runs out to meet the prodigal. We expect otherwise, and that suggests that so did the son. He was prepared to live the rest of his life as a servant under his father. But Jesus is demonstrating, through this wonderful parable, that God is full of surprises, full of a love that we cannot fathom, cannot second guess. The second moment is when the other son, the faithful one, is chastised by his father for being so condemnatory.
So, this is a story in which we learn that our ways have much to change if we are to come into that family. Sometimes in life, we are the prodigal son. Other times we are the condemnatory son. Sometimes we have the grace to act like the prodigal and turn back. Sometimes we have the grace to listen to our Lord through the Gospels and accept that we are being selfish or condemnatory. Perhaps we can sometimes feel like the father: hurt by the selfishness of family decisions but always acting from love ready to welcome our cherished family back. It is a story of perspectives, and a reminder that Jesus is our guide through all of them – Jesus who was humbler yet, even to accepting death on a Cross.
The Lord be with you. And with your spirit
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Glory to you, O Lord.
The tax collectors and the sinners, meanwhile, were all seeking his company to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and the scribes complained.
‘This man’ they said ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.
So he spoke this parable to them:
‘A man had two sons. The younger said to his father, “Father, let me have the share of the estate that would come to me.” So the father divided the property between them. A few days later, the younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery.
‘When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine, and now he began to feel the pinch, so he hired himself out to one of the local inhabitants who put him on his farm to feed the pigs. And he would willingly have filled his belly with the husks the pigs were eating but no one offered him anything. Then he came to his senses and said, “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants.” So he left the place and went back to his father.
‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. Then his son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we are going to have a feast, a celebration, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” And they began to celebrate.
‘Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing. Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about. “Your brother has come” replied the servant “and your father has killed the calf we had fattened because he has got him back safe and sound.” He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out to plead with him; but he answered his father, “Look, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property – he and his women – you kill the calf we had been fattening.”
The father said, “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”‘
The Gospel of the Lord
Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.