Today is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, which brings us another step closer to the start of Great Lent. The parable begins with “A man had two sons…” Immediately the stage is set for a story which is intended to teach us something not only about God but also about ourselves.
The interesting thing about today’s Gospel parable is that it is so down to earth and so believable. The so-called prodigal son wants to leave home, wants to go his own way, and wants independence from his family. This is something most of us have experienced and it is a very natural and acceptable thing. But in this particular instance, the desire of the son to leave home was not motivated by a desire to make it on his own. On the contrary, he wanted to go out and enjoy life. His was a great search for immediate happiness, fulfillment and gratification. He thought he could find happiness in a wanton and carefree life, satisfying his every desire whether moral or immoral, without any responsibility or thought of his future. This eventually led him to living with pigs in a pig pen, feeding off the husks of corn that were given to them to eat.
As I said, the desire to leave home and have our own life is absolutely normal and at the same time even necessary. Sooner or later, we all have to leave the nest, to take flight from the comforts and confines of our parents or guardians. But the problem with the prodigal son is that he threw caution to the wind. He did not properly prepare himself to live on his own. Further, he rejected the values which his parents had spent so much time and effort trying to help him acquire. Had he used this treasury of lessons to his benefit, he would not have ended up squandering all his inheritance and living a life of squalor with pigs. Like most of us today, we think we know better than our parents or those who possess more wisdom what is best for us. Unfortunately, this is not the case. No matter how old we are, unless we have a good moral foundation, our lives can easily end up like that of the prodigal son.
The duty and responsibility of every parent is to give their child or children a good grounding in life and a good grounding in Christian values, so that when the break occurs, any mistakes the child makes will enable them to learn a positive lesson without being so devastating as to ruin their entire lives.
Today’s parents and guardians have a real challenge on their hands. They are required to give their children good grounding in moral values and instill in them an appreciation for the virtues while at the same time allowing them the necessary freedom to make their own life choices. This has become, in this day and age, no less than a true balancing act which can be very stressful.
One of the biggest challenges any parent faces is to allow their children to fall flat on their faces while at the same time being there for them to welcome them back into the family, even though they may have screwed up and even given the whole family a black eye. Today’s parable points out that there is no shame, or should be no shame, in returning home. No matter how bad a situation is, no matter how bad the thing is a child has done, love and mercy know no bounds. Oh yes, there is such a thing as “tough love” but even tough love does not shut doors.
The younger son, the prodigal, is very characteristic of the struggle of society today. We are a “me” people. That is to say, we are only concerned about ourselves, what’s best and good for us and how we can obtain all the things we want at any cost. Many of us have been successful in getting what we want. We work hard to acquire material possessions but the reality is that material possessions to not bring enduring or lasting happiness. In seeking to acquire and build up earthly things, we are never satisfied; we always want more. Our appetites are never satisfied.
Sadly, there is a great spiritual famine in our country at the moment. And because of that, a good number of us have ended up like the prodigal son, squandering our material resources and ending up living among the pigs. We could think of the instances of drug and alcohol abuse, all the fraud and stealing in the workplace, corruption in the Church and in civil government, murders and violence, marital infidelity, priestly infidelity, wars and civil unrest; the list can go on and on. Why would we want to continue living among the pigs when we could go back home to our Father and live lives filled with true riches and happiness?
In the parable, we are given one of the most beautiful descriptions and images of God our Father. He is outside of his house waiting for his younger son to return. When the father sees his son off in the distance, he runs out to meet him. He embraces him, kisses him, brings him home and throws him a banquet, with a sumptuous feast. Not only does he come out to greet his prodigal son, he goes out to call his elder son into the celebration.
The older brother in this story also teaches us a lesson. Just because we may play by all the rules and do as we are told, this does not entitle us to all kinds of perks or special treatment. In some ways, the older brother in this parable comes off as being more selfish than his freewheeling brother. But even in his bad behavior, the father says to his elder son, “All that I have is yours.” So too does God our Father speak those words to us. In our bad and oftentimes selfish behavior, God welcomes us back with the promise that all He has is ours.
Whether we are the prodigal son or the elder son, Jesus gives this parable to us to show us God’s limitless love for all His children, even though our actions may call for less than a loving response.
God gives us all the independence we crave. He opens His treasury and gives us more than our share when we want to set off on our own. And He is there, waiting to welcome us with a loving embrace, whenever we are ready to return to Him.
The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence. There are many temptations and attractions in the world that distract us and lure us away from a truly good and happy life. We hear many voices and messages telling us, “Follow me!” or “Follow your desires and you will find happiness.” But the best and most fulfilling offer of happiness is the one that comes from God our Father, who says to us, “All that I have is yours.” God our Father is just outside the door waiting for us to come home to Him. When we return, He runs to greet us. He takes us into His arms and invites us to come back into His house, where He has set out a magnificent and sumptuous feast to enjoy to the fullest.
As we draw closer to the start of Great Lent, my children, let us look at our life to see exactly where we are. Are we making it on our own? Are we truly happy? If the honest answer to these questions is “no”, then it’s definitely time to turn around and head back home and ask our Father’s forgiveness and help.