The Parable of the Prodigal Son
a) Opening prayer:
Come, Spirit Creator, reveal to us the great mystery of God the Father and of the Son united in one love. Grant that we may see the great day of God, resplendent with light: the dawn of a new world born in the blood of Christ. The prodigal son comes home, the blind sees the bright light; the pardoned good thief dissolves the ancient fear. Dying on the cross, Christ destroys death; death brings forth life, love conquers fear and sin seeks pardon. Amen.
b) Gospel reading
1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them."
3 So he told them this parable:
11 "There was a man who had two sons; 12 and the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.' And he divided his living between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living.
14 And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. 15 So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants."' 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22 But the father said to his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; 23 and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; 24 for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to make merry.
25 "Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. 27 And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.' 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, 'Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!' 31 And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'"
c) Prayerful silent time:
that the Word of God may enter into our hearts and enlighten our life.
a) A key to the reading:
Dante says that Luke is the ‹‹scriba mansuetudinis Christi››. Indeed, he is the Evangelist who loves to emphasise the mercy of the Master towards sinners and presents us with scenes of forgiveness (Lk 7: 36-50; 23: 39-43). In Luke’s Gospel the mercy of God is manifested in Jesus Christ. We can say that Jesus is the incarnation of the merciful presence of God among us. “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate” (Lk 6: 36). Luke focuses on an image of God already revealed in the Old Testament (Es 34: 6), but which, unfortunately, seems to have been ignored by the Scribes and Pharisees who rather stressed the image of a God “who visits the sins of the fathers on the children” (Es 34: 7). Indeed, the Pharisees and the Scribes boasted on being just in the eyes of God because they did not break the law. Jesus criticises this attitude in his teaching and by his actions. He, the “just One” of God (1Pt 3: 18), “receives sinners and eats with them” (Lk 15: 2). Think of the parable of the publican who goes home from the temple justified in contrast with the Pharisee who praised himself before God while passing judgment on his neighbours (Lk 18: 9-14). Jesus points out to us that God’s way of thinking and acting is quite different from ours. God is different, and his transcendence is revealed in the mercy that forgives sins. “My heart recoils from it, my whole being trembles at the thought. I will not give rein to my fierce anger… for I am God, not man; I am the Holy One in your midst and have no wish to destroy” (Hos 11: 8-9).
This parable of the “prodigal son” brings out this merciful aspect of God the Father. That is why some people refer to this story as “the parable of the father who is prodigal with mercy and forgiveness”. The Gospel passage is part of a series of three parables on mercy and has a preamble that leads us to contemplate “all the publicans and sinners” who approach Jesus to listen to him (Lk 15: 1). These are reflected in the attitude of the younger son who comes to himself and begins to think on his state and on what he lost when he left his father’s house (Lk 15: 17-20). It is interesting to note the use of the verb “to listen”, which recalls the scene with Mary, Martha’s sister, “who sat down at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speaking” (Lk 10: 39); or the great crowd of people “who had come to hear him and to be cured of their diseases” (Lk 6: 18). Jesus acknowledges his relatives, not by their blood relationship, but from their listening attitude: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word o God and put it into practice” (Lk 8: 21). Luke seems to place importance on this attitude of listening. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is praised for having a contemplative listening attitude, she who “stored up all these things in her heart” (Lk 2: 19, 51). Elisabeth proclaims her blessed because “she has believed that the promise made by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk 1: 45), revealed at the time of the annunciation (Lk 1: 26-38).
The mercy of the compassionate father (Lk 15: 20), is in contrast with the severe attitude of the older son, who will not accept his brother as such and who, in the dialogue with the father, refers to him as: “this son of yours comes back after swallowing up your property – he and his women…” (Lk 15: 30). In this we can see the attitude of the Scribes and Pharisees who “murmured: ‹‹This man receives sinners and eats with them››.” They do not associate with “sinners” whom they consider unclean, but rather distance themselves from them. Jesus’ attitude is different and, in their sight, it is scandalous. He likes to associate with sinners and sometimes invites himself into their houses to eat with them (Lk 19: 1-10). The murmuring of the Scribes and Pharisees prevents them from listening to the Word.
The contrast between the two brothers is quite evocative. The younger brother recognises his misery and fault and returns home saying: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son” (Lk 15: 18-19, 21). The older brother takes an attitude of arrogance not only towards his brother but also towards his father! His scolding is in great contrast with the tenderness of the father who comes out of the house and goes to meet him to “entreat” him to go into the house (Lk 15: 20, 28). This is an image of God the Father who invites us to conversion, to return to him: “Come back, disloyal Israel – it is Yahweh who speaks – I shall frown on you no more, since I am merciful – it is Yahweh who speaks. I shall not keep my resentment for ever. Only acknowledge your guilt: how you have apostatised from Yahweh your God, how you have flirted with strangers and have not listened to my voice – it is Yahweh who speaks. Come back disloyal children –it is Yahweh who speaks – for I alone am your Master” (Jer 3: 12-14).
b) A few questions:
to direct our meditation and practice.
i) Luke focuses on an image of God already revealed in the Old Testament (Es 34: 6), but which, unfortunately, seems to have been ignored by the Scribes and Pharisees who stressed rather the image of a God “who visits the sins of the fathers on the children” (Es 34: 7). What image of God do I have?
ii) The Pharisees and Scribes boast that they are just in the sight of God because they do not break the law. Jesus criticises their attitude in his teaching and by his actions. He the “Just One” of God (1Pt 3: 18) “receives sinners and eats with them” (Lk 15: 2). Do I consider myself more just than others, perhaps because I try to observe the commandments of God? What are the motives that drive me to live a “just” life? Is it the love of God or personal satisfaction?
iii) “All the publicans and sinners” approached Jesus to listen to him (Lk 15: 1). Luke seems to place importance on this attitude of listening, reflection, entering into oneself, meditating and storing up the Word in our hearts. What place do I give to the contemplative listening of the Word of God in my daily life?
iv) The Scribes and Pharisees do not associate with “sinners” whom they consider unclean, but rather distance themselves from them. Jesus’ attitude is different and, in their sight, it is scandalous. He loves to be with sinners and sometimes invites himself to their houses to eat with them (Lk 19: 1-10). Do I judge others or do I try to pass on feelings of mercy and forgiveness, thus reflecting the tenderness of God the Father-Mother?
v) ‹‹“Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we are going to have a feast, a celebration, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” And they began to celebrate.›› (Lk 15: 23). In the image of the father who celebrates the return to life of his son, we recognise God the Father who has loved us so much “that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life” (Jn 3: 16). In the killed “fattened calf”, we can see the Christ, the lamb of God who offers himself as a victim of expiation for the redemption of sin. I take part in the Eucharistic banquet full of grateful feelings for this infinite love of God who gives himself to us in his crucified and risen beloved Son.
a) Psalm 32 (31):
Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
When I declared not my sin,
my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.
For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
I acknowledged my sin to thee,
and I did not hide my iniquity; I said,
"I will confess my transgressions to the Lord";
then thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin.
Thou art a hiding place for me,
thou preservest me from trouble;
thou dost encompass me with deliverance.
Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice,
O righteous, and shout for joy,
all you upright in heart!
b) Closing prayer:
O God, who rewards the just and will not deny pardon to repentant sinners, listen to our plea: may the humble confession of our faults obtain for us your mercy.
Contemplation is knowing how to adhere with one’s mind and heart to the Lord who by his Word transforms us into new beings who always do his will. “Knowing these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (Jn 13: 17)