Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable:
Then Jesus said, “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 traveled 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.’”
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.
Sometimes, I believe that we have heard the Parable of the Prodigal Son so often, that we don’t or can’t hear it “anew” when it is used as the gospel reading in today’s liturgy. What might be new about the parable or about our reaction to it or to the insights we might glean from it this time around? First, perhaps, is that the Father “divided his property between them.” What that is telling me is that the Father, so respected in a Jewish household, seems to have kept nothing for himself, and now must depend on the brother who remains at home for everything. And, while we are told that the younger son does indeed spend all of his share of the money “on a life of dissipation,” it is the older brother who specifies that at the end of the story by saying to his father, “When your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fatted calf.” Then the father is put into the difficult position of defending the son for whose return he had obviously been waiting and then “caught sight of him while he was still a long way off.”
When we have sinned, do we truly believe (as the parable leads us to believe) that God is actually awaiting our return? Do we believe that God will be as generous, as merciful, and as forgiving as the father in the parable? In this Year of Mercy, do we dare think anything else?
—Fr. Michael A. Vincent, S.J. serves as associate pastor of the Church of the Gesu, University Heights, OH.
Holy Jesus, you spoke peace to our sinful world and gave us the gift of reconciliation.
Help me follow the example Jesus gave: may my attitudes and actions this week turn hatred to love,
conflict to peace, and death to eternal life. Amen.
—The Jesuit prayer team