Today the Church invites us to meditate on the life of a loving father and his two sons, one of the longest parables of Jesus. It is rich in every word, and it is named as the parable of the prodigal son.
But we need to find out who the real prodigal son is in this parable because all three characters are prodigal on their own level. The youngest son is the first. He is asking his father for his inheritance. Usually, a father’s inheritance would be given to his children on the point of his death. But the youngest son is asking too early. Maybe for him, his father is already dead in his heart.
Anyway, his loving father gave him his inheritance. Soon the younger son gathered up all his possessions and went away to a far land. To live outside the land of Israel is something serious to think about. In Jewish agricultural society, when a son would come into his father’s inheritance, he becomes the heir to the land and the property that were part of his family inheritance. To have a piece of land in Israel is seen as the fulfilment of God’s promise to his forefathers that God will give them the promised land. Going to a faraway land means that he has completely abandoned that family relationship and is rejecting God’s promise that you and your descendants will inherit the promised land. Moreover, for the Jew who hears this parable, living in a distant territory meant being in exile. Because whenever Israel disobeyed God’s commandments, they went into exile and were enslaved.
But it reminds us of the changes that sin brings to a person. It is alienating you from God and His family relationship. At the same time, by sinning, we deliberately reject God’s promises. And finally, it leads us into slavery.
So whenever we sin, we become this younger son. So the youngest son symbolises any man who lives according to his will. The youngest son represents those who deny the loving corrections or advice of the father in a family and socio-religious values and advocates individual freedom, the right for them to choose good and bad for themselves.
While he was in a distant land and spent everything there aroused a famine. What does that mean? Material happiness will not last forever. The man who always listened to his friends immersed himself in the momentary pleasures of life and thought that everything was safe, but it was not. How true the book of Proverbs says: “…riches do not last forever” (Prov27:24). Friends who invited you to break bottles of liquor when you have wealth will not be with you in poverty. This is a reminder that they all will be spectators in the gallery in times of your trouble. So the younger son, who was so proud and thought that he had total control of his life, fell at the feet of someone and cried at least to the swineherd, the most demeaning job a Jew could imagine. He would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate, but no one gave him anything. That means he is degraded to the level of animals. It is a lesson for us. In a world without God, there is no mercy and everything functions on the logic of profit. They do nothing that is not profitable to them.
Sin separates us from God, our brothers, gives us suffering in life, enslaves us, takes us to the level of animals and gives us the sense of being unclean and unworthy.
And now he realised his condition. The Famine, I think, was no accident. Indeed, it was provident. For only such a catastrophe could have brought about the prodigal son’s conversion. So understand that it is not God’s punishments but God’s providence so that we do not ultimately die. So the man prepares to return to his father. This is the most beautiful moment in the parable. His words reveal his repentance: “I have sinned against heaven and before you”. Every sin is against God and man. When we acknowledge, happens the real repentance.
The father welcomed his returning son from a distance and embraced him. Later, this father’s courtyard turns into a confessional.
What does the son receive upon being reconciled with his father? The “best robe,” a ring for his hand, shoes for his feet, and a banquet in his honour. The ring is the emblem of the covenant family to which the son is restored. The robe is a sign of his share in his father’s authority. The shoes are the distinctive mark of a free man. The slaves normally went about barefoot. Thus restore the family bonds and is restored to sonship.
According to the father, his son was dead, and he is alive now. Sin pushes us to spiritual death, confession leads us to spiritual resurrection.
Therefore, every confessional is the home of a father who is waiting for the arrival of his beloved son. There we are again accepted into His house, from slavery to sonship. Therefore, confessionals are sacred places where heaven and earth rejoice together. These are the tents on which man rises again to life. So any voice against confession is the voice of death. It is the voice of the devil who wants to see man ultimately dead.
So here we see a father who is prodigal with his love. Yes, our God is a loving Father.
Now there, happens something unexpected: The eldest son was returning from the field. He heard the sound of the music and dancing from a distance. He calls the servants and inquires. Mind you, the first thing to do is enquiring from unworthy people. This man, who has all the freedom to ask his father, turns to his servants. Servants tell him things that seem important to them. What matters to them is that the fatted calf is killed.
Dear friends, to whom we should ask questions about our family and the church? If we ask someone who does not belong to the family, we will get what he thinks is important.
Second, the eldest son becomes a hard-hearted man who cannot rejoice when he hear that his younger brother has returned. It is just as important to be able to rejoice in the joys of others as it is to weep. We read in the Bible: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” It is easy to weep with those who weep but to rejoice with those who joy. We are just as angry as Cain when God was pleased with Abel’s sacrifice. An image of Saul, who became furious when the Hebrew women sang, Saul killed thousands, and David ten thousand, is also hidden in us. Yes, how much we have yet to grow to rejoice with those who rejoice. The only factor that weakens humanity as a society or family is that it does not rejoice with those who rejoice.
This angry son does not enter the house, and he looks at himself just as a slave. He is the father’s son and heir. His lack of love makes him feel like a slave in the family. In fact, he obeyed his father and worked in the field for a reward. But not because of love. Although he lived with his father, he still looks forward to celebrating with his friends. Even his complaint is that he is not given even a lamb to celebrate with our friends. The same is true in the church. Our Christian life, whether it is priestly, religious or married life, if we practice it for some reward and not out of love for Christ, then we are like the elder son we will also soon start criticising our father and brothers and even creating flattery.
Look at the lie told by the eldest son: “This son of yours, who devoured your living with harlots.” The story never says that he devoured the property with harlots. But the eldest son says with a bit of zest and sourness because he knows that such rumours are always the most popular. The very expression ‘your son’ is a testament to how far the eldest son is from his father and brother.
Dear friends, we may not be the younger son in a final analysis. But even more terrifying is the presence of the hidden sinful eldest son in us, who justifies himself, hates his brother and does not even hesitate to flatter against him, who cannot rejoice with him and obeys his father for his own reward. Finally, the gospel did not tell how this parable ends because it is up to us to complete it with our lives. So “let us test and examine our ways and return to the Lord”. (Lamentations 3:40)