Our “Prodigal” Father
Lent 4 Year C
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Luke 15: 11 — 32
This reading is part of the Lenten preparation for Easter. The common call to us during this season is “repentance” and true sorrow for sin. There is every possibility that we may be inclined, these days, to react strongly to words like that. We may sense a certain discomfort with what we might call, “religiosity”. This parable is not about religiosity. It is about stupidity, for that is what much sin is. But our Lord’s purpose in telling it is to help us see beyond human limitations towards real solutions. Those who, in the words of this reading, “come to their senses” begin to see with an enhanced vision. When that happens, things can never be the same again. Let’s see how Jesus presents His teaching on the matter.
Reflections On Our Text
In reflecting on this parable it may help to look on it as having three scenes:
1. Verses 11 — 19 The prodigal son
2. Verses 20 — 24 The ecstatic father
3. Verses 25 — 32 The estranged son
This division may also be useful in dealing with the long reading as three clusters rather than 21 verses.
Then he said, “A man had two sons,
The reading opens with the words: “Then he said,” meaning: “Jesus continued”. This is a reference to verses 1 — 10 in which he demonstrated how God not only waits for His own to return to Him, but searches out and rejoices at finding them.
We note how our parable begins with the person who the parable is really about: “a man who had two sons.”
and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share
of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the
property between them.
The story immediately then focuses attention on to the younger of the two sons. The young man asks for, and receives in advance, his share of what would soon become his inheritance. His father didn’t caution him not to be so silly. He knew his son well enough to know the best response he could make: he looked his son in the eye and said, “If that’s what you want, take it and go”.
After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings
and set off to a distant country where he squandered his
inheritance on a life of dissipation.
Not surprisingly, having never had so much purchasing power in his control before, he decides to pack up what he owned, and get as far away as he could from all the old restrictions on his life. In his new found freedom, as he called it, he squandered the whole lot in “wild living.”
When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that
country, and he found himself in dire need.
All was well until a severe famine suddenly swallowed up the little he had left. Then he started to feel the pinch.
So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him
to his farm to tend the swine.
With no choice, he had to look for any work he could find, and this turned out to be, of all things, feeding pigs.
And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed,
but nobody gave him any.
Sadly, this did not earn him enough to eat anywhere near as well as the pigs. In fact, given the chance, he would have been pleased to eat what they were getting. No one gave him anything, and matters went from bad to worse. In fact, they could not have been any worse.
Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s
hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I,
dying from hunger.
Eventually, in his own time (since no one was pushing him), “he came to his senses.” Something happened. His eyes were opened to see his real situation. He remembered how it was: “All my father’s workers have more to eat than they need and here I am, his son, starving to death.”
Verses 18 and 19
I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father,
I have sinned against heaven and against you.
I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would
treat one of your hired workers.”‘
He goes straight to the heart of the matter, and prepares to return home and confess all to his father. If his father will forgive him he would be happy to be taken back as the lowest, most junior employed worker and do whatever he is told. He chooses his words carefully and rehearses his little speech ready for the moment he reaches his father’s hearing.
So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a
long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with
compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
Well, as we see, his father has been missing him deeply, and constantly visiting a favourite lookout point hoping for the day his son would return home. Suddenly, out of the mist, his son appears and the old man is ecstatic. Five or six words and phrases denote the complete attention devoted to his son.
His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and
against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
The son has been waiting for the first opportunity to speak. He goes straight into reciting his carefully prepared confession, which has been well rehearsed by now. Actually, no one listens to him! His father is too excited by his return to stand around — he is really engaged in getting a great welcome-home party underway. Virtually everyone else is rushing around doing what his father has ordered them. It is absolutely proper for the son to confess the error of his ways, but his father has already read his heart — he can see on the boy’s face that he is truly sorry, and has totally forgotten the youth’s waywardness! It is as though he had never committed a single fault.
Verses 22 — 24
But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe
and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate
with a feast,
because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began.
With these instructions his father interrupts his son’s beautiful and genuine speech.
“Quick, hurry — bring the best robe and put it on him;
— put the finest ring on his finger;
— put the best made sandals on his feet;
— prepare the prize calf for eating;
— do everything possible to make it a magnificent meal.
We must celebrate — but quick, don’t waste a moment!
My son was dead and is now alive.
He was lost, and is now found.
This we must celebrate! Immediately — without any delay!”
And so the young son is confronted with an overwhelming and unimaginable display of love and forgiveness before a word is spoken to him. He is immersed in the joy of his father: “You’ve come home: that’s what matters!”
Verses 25 — 27
Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way
back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music
He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.
The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your
father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him
back safe and sound.’
Suddenly our attention is shifted from this excitement with a thud. “Now, the older son had been out in the field.” He knows of no cause for celebration. Nothing has been mentioned to him about a party. So when he finally heads back to the house after a hard day’s work looking after his father’s property, he hears all the excitement and enquires from a servant: “What’s going on?” The servant gives him the good news that his younger brother has come to his senses and returned home, and that his father is so excited he has ordered the very best of everything in his honour.
He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house,
his father came out and pleaded with him.
The response from the older brother is sheer anger, and a complete refusal to participate in any such celebration. He stays outside and refuses to budge. His father, true to his nature, gives this son exactly the same treatment as the other: he goes out to meet him and empties his heart out pleading for him to come and be part of the family gathering.
Verses 29 and 30
He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you
and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me
even a young goat to feast on with my friends.
But when your son returns who swallowed up your property
with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
The older son cannot hold back the things he has long been waiting to say to his father, with all the bitterness he can convey. “All these years I have slaved for you and never disobeyed your orders. When did you ever give me even a small young goat for me to have a celebration with my friends? But the moment this half-wit son of yours, who squandered everything you gave him on prostitutes — the moment he shows up, you drop everything and treat him like a king. The family brat was forced to grow up because he had no choice and you are treating him as though he had never committed a single offence! He was prodigal in wasting his inheritance — you are being even more prodigal by forgiving him everything and surrounding him with more than he had before!”
What a sad spectacle! It is now the older son who has distanced himself from his father — even more than did his younger brother. He has, in fact, been living all these years in separation from his father. He may have obeyed to the letter, but not out of love: rather for expected rewards, which he claims he has never received. He now shows his true colours. This is certainly a moment of tragedy. What is there to say to such a bitter person who insists on sulking? Should he get what he deserves — a thorough dressing down?
Verses 31 and 32
He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always;
everything I have is yours.
But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother
was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been
Just as the younger son did not receive a lecture when he came home, so now the older son’s shortcomings are also overlooked. The father responds to his son’s insulting remarks with the two most beautiful words he could say to him on this occasion: “My son“. There follows an acknowledgement of what the older son has done, though with a hint of quietly rejecting the self-righteousness and sulking he used to try and send his father on a guilt trip.
The old man closes with a glimpse of what was going on inside him. “We couldn’t think even for a single moment of not celebrating this momentous occasion. Your little brother, without any regard to our feelings, with no thought of the future or really of anyone but himself, wanted to get away from all restraint and expectation. He took everything he could put his name to, disappeared off the face of the earth, and squandered it like a mindless fool. I know that as well as you do. But he has learnt his lesson. Your little brother has grown up. Can’t you see he is a new person. Let him start again. Let him receive another inheritance when his time comes. If that makes me “prodigal,” then prodigal I am, and prodigal I will remain! Why do you have to stay stuck the way he was? Unless you can let go of those feelings, you will remain as shackled as he was. Come on. It is not too late to join in the celebration: ….. this brother of yours was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found. Don’t forget, he is your brother!”
The parable ends with a challenge to all of us — whichever brother we may resemble — to own and confess our defects, and respond humbly to the Father’s plea: “Come back”.
If the prodigal son in this story was extremely extravagant in handing out what he owned, his father was even more so in his joy at the return of his son. There seems no limit to his generosity, corresponding to the opposite extent of his son’s selfishness and wastefulness —which is what “prodigal” actually means.
Is this not a picture of a father who is lavish and extravagant in forgiveness almost to the extreme — “almost to a fault,” as we might say? —always outmatching the failings forgiven.
Jesus closes His lesson, leaving the story open ended. He has been talking about His Father who yearns and pines for His own to come back to Him and His Household, so that He can say to them and to us, “You’ve come home: that’s what matters.” When we do that, He will exercise no restraint in the blessings He heaps upon us. His shower of blessings will always extend beyond and cover our multiple failings — no matter how absurd, stupid, selfish and evil they might have been. In that sense, He is indeed, as the elder son called him, a “Prodigal” Father — our “Prodigal” Father!
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Our “Prodigal” Father
Lent 4 Year C Luke 15: 11 to 32
Luke 15: 11 — 32
Lent 4 Year C
11 Then he said, “A man had two sons,
12 and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share
13 After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings
14 When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that
15 So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him
16 And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed,
17 Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s
18 I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father,
19 I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would
20 So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a
21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and
22 But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe
23 Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate
24 because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
25 Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way
26 He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.
27 The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your
28 He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house,
29 He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you
30 But when your son returns who swallowed up your property
31 He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always;
32 But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible,