If there is ever an event that can cause the most drastic swing of emotions, it would have to be when a parent loses or at least ‘thinks’ they have lost their child. The absolute sense of dread and panic; of sheer terror is, if not the worst, then certainly among the worst things one could ever experience. But the flood of emotions experienced when we find that child again; relief, exasperation, and joy are just as intense. We don’t care how they ‘got back’; we’re only glad that they are back.
It is at these times that we realize it is not important what we have; what we own; we would give it all up just to have our child with us; to keep them close; because that relationship between a parent and their child is what is most important; it is the relationship that makes a family; it is that relationship that fills us with joy.
We are presented in today’s Gospel passage from St. Luke with three parables from Jesus, who is trying to , once again, explain to some of the Pharisees why it is so important that he associates with the lost and the broken, the outcasts; the ones whom the Pharisees refer to as ‘sinners’. It’s interesting to note the wording of the comment by the Pharisees: they say” This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” That phrase, ‘this fellow welcomes’ would give us a hint that Jesus is actually not just a guest of honour, but actually hosted gatherings; it’s not that he happened to be at public gatherings, like a parish potluck dinner and the ‘sinners’ happen to show up: Jesus would host events at which he encouraged and welcomed those who had drifted away from their faith, and from a relationship with God to come back.
In relating these three parables, Jesus says the return of those who have distanced themselves from God, who have broken their relationship with God, is indeed a cause for rejoicing, not just in a family, or local parish church, but in heaven itself: Jesus states it quite plainly: “I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the Angels of God over one sinner who repents.” If there was ever a passage in Scripture that shouts encouragement for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, this is it.
Each of the three parables seems to hold a graduating degree of ‘fault’ on the part of that which is lost: we have an innocent little lamb that just kind of wanders off for no particular reason; we have a coin that is ‘misplaced’; but it is in the third parable, the one we have come to call the Prodigal Son – or perhaps better The Loving Father – where the responsibility of becoming ‘lost’ really rests with the conscious decisions of the one who wanders away. It’s really quite a study in our relationship with our Creator, and is just as relevant to our society today as it was in first century Palestine.
The younger son is not interested in a relationship with his father; “give me my share of the property that will belong to me,” He’s talking about an inheritance – well, ordinarily to receive an inheritance, the original owner of the property has to die. In essence, what this younger son is saying to his father is, ‘I wish you were dead. I have no interest in you or being part of your ‘family’; I just want your property that would come to me if you were no longer around. I want what you have – I just don’t want you.” How often do we hear that echoed in our own society; a society that is all too happy to take everything that God has provided, but rejects a relationship with God – at times even rejects the existence of God.
Well, the father gives this younger son half of his property, an unusual move in the culture of Jesus time, and as we read, the younger son takes this abundance and squanders it all, living a life completely counter to his culture, his religion, and his family’s honour.
And when he finally hits rock bottom, the Gospel says, he comes ‘to his senses.’ And decides to return home; but it’s not really for any high-minded ideal or deep sense of conviction; it’s because he’s broke, and hungry; and he knows his father will at the very least feed him. And as he is on his return home, it is the father who sees him from a distance and runs out to meet him; the son has a speech he has prepared; a set of conditions to offer his father in return for his coming home – but the father doesn’t let him complete his speech (especially the part about treating him like one of the servants) but in joy makes a tremendous show of welcoming his wayward son home. In effect, he says to the boy, that it’s not important to him why his son has returned; it only matters that he has returned home and the father welcomes him back into relationship.
Even the elder son starts to drift away from relationship; he complains to his father about all the work he has done and how his father hasn’t given him a small goat in exchange for his efforts to have a little party; the elder son is sounding like he expects something from the father – as if the father ‘owes’ him ‘something’ in exchange for his years of loyal service; but he too misses the point; that everything the father has to give him is his for the asking; but what is really important is the relationship between the father and his children.
We may be tempted to view this parable only in relation to those who have committed some great grievous and public sin; or those who in some very visible way have broken faith with God and with the Church; or those whose lifestyles we may ‘judge’ as not in keeping with the Gospel values.
But the truth is, every time we say or do anything that is contrary to the teachings of Christ and His Church; each time we sin, even in a small way, we distance ourselves from God; we turn away from that closeness of that relationship with God. We take the gifts that God has given us, and in effect behave like the younger son in the parable of the prodigal and say, ‘I’m more interested in what I can get from you, than being close to you; I will take everything you have to give me, but I don’t want a relationship with you because that suggests commitment and changing my focus from me to you.”
Fortunately for us, God is like the father in this parable; yes, the son has to make the first move, deciding he wants to return home, but that’s the extent of his work in this ‘reunion’. The father is constantly watching the horizon, waiting for the day that his child will come back to him;
However we stray or wander away from God, He always waits for us to return. Whenever we admit our own failings, and turn back to Him, to re-enter that relationship with Him, He rejoices with the angels. He runs to meet us, and embraces us, and He says to each of us, “I’m just glad you’re home.”
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!