Dear Readers, this Sunday the world is going to consider the folly of the man who has come to be known as the Prodigal Son. It is a parable that is perhaps better known than many of Aesop's fables. It is going to be a boring Sunday for many of us, because this is one of those days when it will be difficult to find a real creative presentation of what Jesus intended when He told the story. I have been tossing and turning this story around in my head for many years and a while ago, I got inspired. I listened to what the father told the stay-at-home-son, "My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours." (Luke, chapter 15, verse 21) It struck me then that both sons were wrong- headed and the father was the wise person in the family. (Sorry, ladies, but the mother is not mentioned in this story.)
I got this inspiration when it came to me that Saint Ignatius of Antioch, a man so bright and so holy that he is known as a Doctor of the Church proposed a key to the understanding of the parables. He suggested that in all parables Jesus, His Church and the Faithful all appear symbolically as in Salvation history. He applied this spiritual insight first and foremost to the parable of the Good Samaritan. It works very well here too. The father is Christ, the Savior. The house (home) is the Church. The boys are the faithful (the people). Think about it.
The beauty of the story is that both sons start out on equal footing and even though the younger one does something stupid, he gets feted and his brother gets silenced. Isn't that the way God is. We all start out on the same footing. We can all relate to God assuring us that "...all that I have is yours." Isn't it true that we don't get it? In this story neither the younger nor the elder was convinced of this truth. The younger displayed his ignorance by asking for his share before his father died. The elder stayed around but never came to believe the truth of how rich he really was until he too challenged his father for what he thought was rightfully his. His father told him straight-up about the reality of his situation.
The challenge that comes to us from this story is the same that comes to us from Jesus in all His stories: "Until you hate your mother and father you cannot be my disciple." "If you don't leave the 99 sheep to look for the one who got away, you are not my disciple." "If you don't eat my flesh and drink my blood you will not have everlasting life." "Blind? If you were, you would not be guilty, but since you say, 'We see', your guilt remains." This is exactly what happens here in today's story. The younger brother goes from being blind to seeing. The elder brother remains self righteously blind, not accepting that "all I have is yours."
Some of you reading this can relate to the story first hand. Some of us "cradle Catholics" take what we have for granted. We begin by not seeing our own sinfulness and unworthiness, and we fancy that we are much better than others, and that nobody is worthy to be put by our side. We find ourselves unable to take pleasure when others are forgiven and accepted.
Some of you "returning Catholics" are grateful for the love and understanding that the Church has extended to you despite your "folly". In this passage, Jesus teaches us that the conversion of any soul ought to be an occasion of joy to all who see it. Our Lord shows us this by putting the following words into the mouth of the prodigal's father--"We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!"
Some of you started from afar and came to find the house where the party is. You followed the younger one to the house and have been included in the all embracing hug of Jesus himself.
The lesson is one which we shall all do well to lay to heart. Nothing ought to give us such true pleasure as the conversion of souls. It makes angels rejoice in heaven. It ought to make Christians rejoice on earth. What if those who are converted were lately the vilest of the vile? What if they have served sin and Satan for many long years, and wasted their substance in riotous living? It matters nothing. "Has grace come into their hearts? Are they truly penitent? Have they come back to their father's house? Are they new creatures in Christ Jesus? Are the dead made alive and the lost found?"
We have a daily banquet table around which to gather and celebrate. Let us warm ourselves in the loving embrace of Jesus, always leaving some space for the lost sibling who is fighting his way back into the family. If you know whom it could be, extend the invitation. Make it easy for this courageous soul to come home. Trust me, the more that happens, the fewer will be those who cry at my funeral, and maybe even yours.