The Parable of the Lost Son found in the Gospel of Luke (15:11-32), is often referred to as the prodigal son because it seems to focus on the behavior of the younger son, but there is much more to reflect on here. Certainly, we see how the selfishness of the younger son drew him into deeper sin that eventually brought him to the point of despair. He set aside the love of his father and the security of his home to satisfy his attraction to pleasure and self-indulgence. He even asked for an inheritance that was not rightfully his until his father died. It is as if he was saying to his father, my inheritance is more important to me than you are.
It was not until he ran out of money that he was able to see the tragedy of his choice. When he began to starve, he remembered how good he had it before he left home. His repentance was not of the best of motives because his main reason for returning home was to satisfy his hunger. However, he did confess that he no longer deserved to be called his father’s son and was willing to be treated as a servant.
The most important person in this parable is the father. Even though he was treated with disrespect, he longed for his son to return. As the Gospel of Luke (15:20) states,
“While he (the younger son) was a long way off, his father caught sight of him and was moved with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.”
He restored his son to the position he had before he left. This is an image of our heavenly Father’s unconditional love for us. No matter what we have done he longs for us to return to him and renew our relationship with him. For this renewal to happen, like the younger son, we must have a contrite heart and return to God so that we can experience his unconditional love. He never stops loving us, but when removing ourselves from him through sin, we do not have a sense of his loving presence. We lose sight of the plan he has for us and become sad, even hopeless.
Meanwhile, when the older son hears the reason for the celebration, he becomes angry because his brother is welcomed back after such a shameful departure. His jealousy prevents him from sharing his father’s joy at the return of his brother. It seems he would rather his brother continue to suffer the consequences for his selfish behavior, which of course is selfish behavior also. His father tries to convince him of how much he is loved and wants him to share in the joy of his brother’s return.
Putting Yourself in the Parable
Which of the three characters in this parable can you identify with? How about the younger son? Have you ever made a selfish decision that hurt someone else deeply? If so, did you return to ask forgiveness? The best reason for reconciliation is not that we find ourselves desperate like the younger son, but because our conscience tells us it is the right thing to do. Unless we have allowed our heart to become hardened, we cannot be at peace with our self when we know we have been unjust.
Maybe we can relate to the older son who allowed his jealousy to blind him of the joy his father wanted him to share in. Jealousy does not allow us to recognize our own gifts and talents and prevents us from becoming what God wants us to be. Like selfishness, jealousy can cause us to be unhappy and hopeless.
The purpose of the parable is for us to recognize the unconditional love of the father. I personally have been able to relate to both the younger and the older sons at different times in my life. I have also been able to forgive myself and others and develop a desire to love God above all things and my neighbor as myself for the love of God. We all are on a journey and what we were yesterday and what we are today should not be the same as what we will be tomorrow.
How Can You Experience God’s, Unconditional Love?
Hopefully, this parable will convince us of the unconditional love of our heavenly Father, and what we can do to experience that love. It is especially in the sacrament of reconciliation that we experience the love and forgiveness of God. As the father waited for the return of his son, so does Jesus wait for us in the confessional. We confess our sins to Jesus through his priest and Jesus forgives our sins through his priest. When we hear the priest say, “I absolve you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” we can know we are forgiven by God, and just like the prodigal son, we are restored to our dignity as a child of God.
Deacon Tom Fox, K.H.S. is Co-Founder & Co-Director of Pilgrim Center of Hope with his wife, Mary Jane Fox. The two left their careers after a profound conversion experience and began working full-time in ministry at their parish in 1986. After several years and having impacted tens of thousands of families, the Foxes founded Pilgrim Center of Hope in 1993 as a response to the Church’s call for a New Evangelization. Deacon Tom is an invested member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre.
Answering Christ’s call, Pilgrim Center of Hope guides people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life. See what’s happening & let us journey with you! Visit PilgrimCenterOfHope.org.