Rejoicing Over a Prodigal
Today’s devotion is one with which you are very familiar. Probably of all of Jesus’ parables, this is the most beloved. In it are three main characters: the father, the prodigal son, and the resentful brother. The father represents, of course, our loving God and Father, the son represents the tax collectors and sinners, and the brother stands for the Pharisees and scribes.
The younger son makes a request of his father filled with the most impudence any son could make: that his father divide the inheritance between him and his brother while the father was yet living. It’s as if he were saying to his father that he wished he were dead. The father satisfies his son’s request, and the son then takes his father’s money, goes away to a distant country, and wastes the money on “reckless living.” Now poor and destitute, he takes a job feeding pigs, the lowest rung on the ladder for a Jew who considered such animals unclean. When he finally “came to himself” (that is, came to his senses), he realizes even his father’s servants fare better than him, so he decides to return home in sincere repentance to his father, only asking that he might be made a servant.
But the father sees him while yet “a long way off.” It seems that his father was actually watching for him. He runs (undignified behavior in that day for a wealthy landowner), embraces his son, and restores him to full sonship. The son confesses his sin but the father is too overjoyed to hear it. They begin to celebrate. When the older son returns from his labors in the fields and learns of the reason for all the commotion, he is indignant. The father entreats him to join the celebration but he refuses. He had been a loyal and faithful son, serving his father dutifully. And while he was yet working in the field, his father kills the fattened calf to celebrate the return of this disgraceful son. But the father answers his son’s reproaches, “For your brother [remember, he is your brother] was dead and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” In these words, the father expresses what was at stake.
There is a great lesson here: no one is beyond the reach or too sinful for our loving Father. Even the Apostle Paul began as an embittered persecutor of the Church. We write people off long before God does, and like the older brother, might even resent the return of a wayward sibling who has caused the family so much heartache. May we ever be tenderhearted towards the sinner, knowing that, but for the grace of God, there go I. And, unlike the older brother, may we serve the Lord with gladness.