A Side to Every Story
The Parable of the Prodigal Son - Luke 15:11-32
The Prodigal Son is one of the most popular parables in the Bible. However, over time I grew tired of the same message, same homily, same story of the father forgiving the lost son. This changed a few years ago when a young man I mentored in college came to me asking to discuss the passage. I have to be honest, when he recommended this passage for us to discuss I was less than thrilled. Though I doubted this was the “right” scripture choice for our time together, the fruit that came from taking time to dive deeper into the beauty of this story was bountiful. This new insight came from the idea of putting ourselves in each of the characters shoes, the son, the brother, and even the father.
The story from the standpoint of the son is by far the most popular to consider. The story of the redemption he gains is something all of us can find to be encouraging. We can find consolation in our Father who welcomes us back with open arms when we turn away from Him and slander His name through sin. We can learn from the son’s reunion with his father. Knowing that he had tried everything that the world told him would bring him fulfillment, he is quick to discover that the world's idea of happiness is fleeting. Physically starving, the son turns back to the one person who would offer him a meal - his father. Now what I found interesting is that the son returned to his father begging to be his servant, not his son. The humility that the son displays in his plea for the servant position is moving. As sons and daughters of Christ, we are called to bring the same amount of authenticity and humility in our pleas for forgiveness. One flaw to note in the son's approach is that he falls into the lie that he doesn’t deserve his sonship and that he shouldn’t have it. In reality, this gift of sonship is a gift given not earned. So many of us fall prey to the same lie in regards to God the Father. We must remember that this inheritance of sonship and the love of the Father cannot be lost. Furthermore, when the father offers him his inheritance back and welcomes him into his house, the son does not question the forgiveness he has received. He trusts his father's mercy and love and accepts the redemption with an open heart. How often we are offered that same forgiveness in confession, yet we do not truly forgive ourselves or believe God could forgive our transgressions. Much like the son, we should wrap ourselves in the cloak of love and mercy God the Father offers us.
Previously when I read this parable I would read the version focused on the brother’s response, my dislike growing for him sentence by sentence. Upon reading it this time I was struck with the idea that if I was in his shoes, I’d probably react the same way - or worse. First, I would question the authenticity of my brother's repentance. Second, I too would be upset if my father threw a party for him after all of the years of hard work I had been putting in. As easy as it is to see the brother was in the wrong, his distrust in his brethren and the pride in feeling he deserves favor over his brother is overtly human. In the walk of faith, we are brought face to face with these temptations of distrust and pride. In terms of distrust, how often do our past mistakes overshadow the conversions of our hearts. I have encountered this judgement and distrust both personally and from a distance. We can learn from the brother here that no matter the circumstances, the best reaction is one of welcoming love (much like how the father reacts, but we’ll get to that later). In terms of pride, our faithfulness and loyalty to God the Father can sometimes leave us thinking we deserve special favor from Him. It’s important to note what the father says in this case,
“My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15:32)
We already have all the favor and love we could ever desire - our brethren turning to Christ are just coming into the feast that we have been a part of for years. We need not sulk or grow jealous of this celebration because the love expressed in the feast is already ours. Our brethren need to experience what it means to be brought from the dark to the light, death to life. With that being said, let’s run into the feast, take our place at the table, and toast to our long lost brethren.
Now we can assume that the father in this parable is a representation of God the Father, but it can still prove helpful to put yourself in the shoes of this character. Imagine your child, flesh of your flesh, as the son who left and squandered his goods. Would you not keep looking day and night hoping and praying that he would return to you? Likewise, God the Father is always searching for us and hoping that we turn back to him. It is easy to think “God is searching for the entire population to return to him and I am a part of that.” Although this is true, it is important to understand that God the Father is searching for you individually to return to him. He desires a personal relationship with you, his son or daughter. Upon his return, it would undoubtedly be a cause for celebration. If we, “who are wicked,” would offer such forgiveness, why would God the Father not? When we partake in the Sacrament of Confession, God the Father is moved with compassion and runs to meet us. He meets us and invites us back to Him always. As baptized people this is a permanent gift of the holy spirit in all of us which calls us back and inspires our return. As we humble ourselves before Him in Confession and beg of His mercy, He does not stop to think about if we deserve it because we chose to sin against Him. Just as the father celebrated his lost son and gave him back his inheritance, God the Father celebrates us and gives us back our full inheritance.
Mercy, love, and sonship are things we often don’t feel like we deserve because of our past mistakes in life. In a worldly sense, maybe we don’t deserve these things, but our God is not worldly. He longs to see us return to him and when we do He longs to show us His true identity of love. Your inheritance of mercy, love, and sonship are still rightfully yours, all you have to do is start walking back to Him. From one prodigal son to another, I promise if you do, you will find that He will provide the answer to all of your hearts deepest desires and needs.