Today’s Gospel on the “Parable of the Prodigal Son” is one of the most beautifully written parable in the whole of Sacred Scriptures. We are all very familiar with its content. Thousands upon thousands of reflections have been written on it and from different angles, especially on God’s Merciful Love.
Today, I would like us to reflect on not so much the sinful behaviour of the two sons, but on the immensely generous love of the father, who symbolises God the Father’s Love for us and indeed for all peoples.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we may all think that we know God. In our reflection today, I would like us to challenge our perceptions of God and ask ourselves two basic questions as I lead you through the reflection on the parable. Our first question is, “Do I really know God?” and the second and inseparable question is, “Can I accept such an immensely generous love of God?” Our answers to these two questions can only be answered from our hearts personally, and our answers will give us an indication of how deep or otherwise our love is for God.
While time does not permit me to enter into the many beautiful details of the parable, let us begin our refection by first noting that when the younger son asked for his share of property, he was in some sense as brazen and bold as saying to his father, “Father, you are as good as dead, so give me my share of the property.” He then leaves home for a foreign country and squanders all his wealth on an immoral life of debauchery; famine hits the country; he hires himself to feed pigs; a work which a Jew would consider to be most degrading; he then finds himself dying of hunger, and is deprived of even eating the husks of the pigs, which he would willingly have eaten. Through his suffering, he comes to his senses and decides to return his father to work as a paid servant, and not as a son, as he no longer considers himself to be worthy to be one.
However, when his father at a distance sees him returning home, moved with deep compassion and love, he runs out to embrace his son. And even as his son admits of his sin and unworthiness to be his son, the father ignores what is said and immediately orders that the best robe, a ring and sandals be put on his son; symbolising not only that he is welcomed home, but reinstating the full dignity of him being his son once again. The fatten calf is then slaughtered for a big feast; rightly so, there must be a grand celebration for such a joyous occasion . . . for he says, “this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.”
Meanwhile, the elder son returns. He finds out what was happening and was filled with anger towards his father and refused to join the celebration. He protests bitterly for the injustice . . . He says, “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, 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.”
His father, with his immensely generous love, pleaded with him, “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it is only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, it is not surprising if we find it very difficult to comprehend and enter into the depth of this immensely generous love of God. Our experiences of human love is always limited and tainted with our self-centred tendencies. As such, we tend to reduce God’s Love to what we know and have experienced as love.
This parable of the “Prodigal Son” is the third in a series of two other parables: the “Parable of the Lost Sheep” and the “Parable of the Lost Coin.” All these three parables have a common theme of: “loss” followed by “finding” and then finally “celebration”. The context of these parables is that the Pharisees and scribes complaining that Jesus is mixing with tax collectors and sinners. They hold the view that, if Jesus claims to be a Prophet or the Son of God, then He should know better, and not be contaminated by these sinners, by mixing with them.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we know from the Gospels that clearly, Jesus has precisely come to proclaim the Good News of Salvation to all sinners and to all of us. As such, He has to be with us and mingle with us sinners so that we can hear His Truth and be converted by the Good News that God’s Love is immensely generous and merciful. God our Father has sent Jesus, His Son, NOT to condemn, but to bring about conversion from sin and Salvation to all peoples.
Let us also note that the parable ends without telling us whether the elder brother joined in the celebration or not. This is deliberate because the Gospel, wants us to put ourselves in the shoes of the elder brother, and ask ourselves the two basic questions, first, “Do I really know God?” and second, “Can I accept such an immensely generous love of God?”
Let us not jump to conclusion that we all do as wholeheartedly as we think because the Gospel today is challenging you and I to reflect on our lives more deeply and face the truth of whether our love is for God is passionate, warm or lukewarm.
It is good that we not make presumptions of our faith, hope and love for God, because this is the surest way of not growing in our relationship with God. This is precisely why St Ignatius of Loyola values deeply the importance of our need to be more in tuned with God in our lives and learn and discern how to find God’s immensely generous love in all things: our inner self, in others and all situations for God’s Greater Glory . . . I like us to reflect on this poem that has a lot of relevance for our reflection today . . . it says,
Bound by fear, she cannot see
Her limitless, possibilities
She knows there is hope. She knows this well.
Yet, she chooses to live, inside her hell.
It is safer there; it is her comfort zone.
To step outside, is to face the unknown.
It is to risk being hurt; risk being burned.
It is to open herself up; to desires yearned.
So she runs and hides; in a cowardly fashion.
Repressing her love; denying her passion.
Bound by fear; oh such pain.
Maybe it is time; she breaks the chains.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, are we willing to break the chains that bind us in fear and allow God’s immensely generous Love to transform our lives? If we do, then we will find the deep and lasting peace and joy that God desires to fill our hearts and our homes. Both the younger and older sons in today’s parable did not know how much their father loved them, and as such they were caught up in their own self-centered needs.
And as I conclude, let us be reminded that, You and I are challenged to open our hearts, homes and communities to this immensely generous love of God to liberate us and empower us to break the chains of our fears in life.
If we have not yet found God’s deep peace and joy in our hearts then we may be like the younger son of the parable; we may be looking for other fulfilment in the secular world that will not and cannot satisfy . . . But, if we cannot rejoice in how God is loving someone else, and forgiving and blessing them, and are upset with God, then likewise, we need to look into our own hearts more deeply, for like the elder son, we may be keeping God’s Commandments and still be far from Him . . . like a slave instead of being a son and daughter. . . of God the Father.
(cf: poem by Ramona L. Anderson, Happiness Manufacturers, by Hedwig Lewis, S.J.; Gujarat Sahitya Prakash; pub.; 2001; p.85.)
Msgr Philip Heng, S.J.
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