THE READINGS In today’s Readings we see that through
his infinite mercy, the Lord removes the “reproach of Egypt”
from his people (First Reading), while at the same time,
through his ambassadors, who call us to reconciliation (Second Reading),
we are able to return to the home of the
Father, and forgive one another (Gospel).
DOCTRINAL MESSAGE Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son is proof of the
divine inspiration of Scripture. It is remarkable both in its
simplicity, and in its depth. In a sense, the story
has come down to us with an inaccurate name, for
Jesus’ message is, in fact, a “parable of Divine Mercy,”
which should not be merely reduced to the father’s treatment
of his errant son, but rather considered in light of
God’s endless compassion. The divine mercy of God, which is
illustrated through the father’s relation with his two sons, is
presented as having both a consoling and a challenging nature.
Let us first take a look at the
consoling part of the message, which is the fact that
divine mercy transforms the soul. Jesus gives a masterful portrait
of the younger son, casually providing details about the prodigal
before, during, and after his degradation. In search of freedom,
he throws away his sonship and, ironically, becomes a slave.
He loses a father, who is replaced by a cold
master who does nothing but exploit him, and he loses
his Jewish identity, being sent to work with the swine.
He even loses something of his very humanity, since his
master won’t waste the pigs’ food on him. After finally
hitting rock-bottom, he decides to come back home, and in
returning to his father, his degraded soul is transformed. The
father’s embrace gives him back his lost sonship, while his
nakedness is covered with the robe, and his unshod feet,
characteristic of slaves, are given new shoes. The ring, a
symbol of authority, is put on his finger, and it
is clearly seen that the father’s love has fully restored
his lost son.
But Jesus did not stop
the parable there. He kept it going because he wanted
to challenge us as well. Divine mercy requires a response.
The older son is appalled at the treatment of his
brother, and chides his father in pride and self-righteousness, refusing
to go into the house. The house, in this case,
is a symbol of fellowship and communion with the father.
In pursuing his lust, the younger son had been out
of the house, and now, ironically, the “good” son is
outside the house because of his pride. The father makes
clear that the only way he will be admitted to
the house is to forgive his brother. Taken together, both
sons illustrate in their distinctive ways Christ’s message in the
Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those
who trespass against us.”
The story concludes with
an open ending. We are not told whether or not
the older son enters the house, and therein lies another
lesson about divine mercy: God always forgives, while our own
forgiveness of others is really the open question.
PASTORAL APPLICATIONS The parable lends itself to rich pastoral applications.
There will be people in the congregation who struggle with
receiving God’s forgiveness. After the Roe vs. Wade case and
the sexual revolution, there are many who carry tremendous burdens
of guilt. Certainly tact and delicacy are required here, but
a strong message needs to be given, letting everyone know
that there is no “unforgivable” sin. God’s infinite goodness is
waiting to embrace anyone who turns back to him. In
the sacrament of reconciliation, we receive that incredible embrace of
the Father. The prodigal threw away his sonship, but the
father always remained a father…our God is a Father who
But guilt is not the only baggage
that people carry. There will be much resentment for past
wrongs and hurts. What marriage or family doesn’t have its
own history of wounds? The father’s pleading with the older
son shows us God’s attitude. In fact, he is continually
pleading with us to forgive one another. Will we give
up our pettiness? Will we embrace our brother? That is
the continual challenge of the Christian life. Our pride is
a tough enemy, but with God’s grace, and a good
Lent, we can make progress.