Challenge of the Prodigal Son by Rev. Paul Grankauskas
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
Then he said, " A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, 'Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.' So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, 'How many of my father's hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son, treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers."' So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.' But his father ordered his servants, 'Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.' Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, 'Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.' He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, 'Look all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns, who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.' He said to him, 'My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But not we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.'"
The parable of the prodigal son is probably one of the most familiar and beautiful stories found in the Gospels. If we were willing to look a little deeper, though we might also find it a little challenging.
It is a beautiful parable because here Jesus reveals the great and infinite depth of His Father's love and mercy. How can we not be moved by the scene of the prodigal son's reunion with his father? When he left home, he was a cocky and arrogant young pup, demanding his share of the inheritance. Now he comes home poor, broken and humbled. He has fallen from grace and is all too aware of that loss of his dignity: "I am no longer worthy to be called your son."
In justice, the father could have torn into the kid, agreeing wholeheartedly. His son squandered his share of the inheritance for which the father probably worked hard yet gave so freely. The father could have simply said the son was getting no more than what he deserved for his behavior.
But that is not what he does.
He welcomes his son home and rejoices that the one who was lost has now returned. He has his son back, and that is all that matters to him. In showing forth such love and mercy, he restores the dignity and worth of his son. He gives him new life.
Such is how God seems to deal with us in our own sinfulness. We have been given the gift of the Spirit, who enables us to call God our Father. We have been given the grace of sonship. Sin is an abuse of our freedom as children of God, a rejection and rebellion against our Father. Sin, an offense against God's love and goodness, alienates us from Him and is deserving of punishment. But when, by the grace of God, we become aware of how deeply we have offended and hurt God by our sins, He is there to welcome us home again. He does not desire that we perish in our sins. We are humbled by having to acknowledge and confess our sins, but God restores the dignity we have lost through those sins. It is not without reason that I often ask those who have been away from the Sacrament of Penance for a long time to read this passage. It is important that we know that our heavenly Father does not desire to condemn us, but that there is great rejoicing in heaven when we turn away from sin and back to Him.
So where is the challenge of the parable? First there is still the older son to consider. The younger brother's actions were certainly a slap in the face to him. How dare his little sibling demand the inheritance? He is resentful of his father's mercy toward the miscreant. Our Lord tells us that God rejoices at the conversion of sinners. We ought to share that joy. The conversion of a hardened sinner, who runs the danger of eternal punishment, is not a cause for resentment, but great joy.
Second, we can only wonder what the prodigal son was like when he got home. If he did the same thing all over again, willingly hurting the father who has shown him great kindness and mercy, we would consider him an ungrateful wretch. One would like to think that the son resolved not to cause his father such pain ever again.
We too, can be confident of God's forgiveness in the sacrament of penance, but mercy does not necessarily let us off the hook. We need to have a firm purpose of amendment. We need to work at rooting out sins and their causes. That does not mean we may not fall again. Despite our resolution not to sin again, we may still find ourselves overrun by temptations. But, we ought to be doing everything in our power to set our will against sins.
In other words, we have to make a decision about what we are going to do when we come home. That is the unwritten sequel of the parable of the prodigal son.
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