Lk 15:1-3, 11-32
Meanwhile tax collectors and sinners were seeking the company of Jesus, all of them eager to hear what he had to say. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law frowned at this, muttering, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So Jesus told them this parable: Jesus continued: “There was a man with two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Give me my share of the estate.’ So the father divided his property between them.
Some days later, the younger son gathered all his belongings and started off for a distant land, where he squandered his wealth in loose living. Having spent everything, he was hard pressed when a severe famine broke out in that land. So he hired himself out to a well-to-do citizen of that place, and was sent to work on a pig farm. So famished was he, that he longed to fill his stomach even with the food given to the pigs, but no one offered him anything.
Finally coming to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will get up and go back to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned against God, and before you. I no longer deserve to be called your son. Treat me then as one of your hired servants.’ With that thought in mind, he set off for his father’s house.
He was still a long way off, when his father caught sight of him. His father was so deeply moved with compassion that he ran out to meet him, threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. The son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
But the father turned to his servants: ‘Quick!’ he said. ‘Bring out the finest robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! Take the fattened calf and kill it! We shall celebrate and have a feast, for this son of mine was dead, and has come back to life; he was lost, and is found!’ And the celebration began.
Meanwhile, the elder son had been working in the fields. As he returned and approached the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what it was all about. The servant answered, ‘Your brother has come home safe and sound, and your father is so happy about it that he has ordered this celebration, and killed the fattened calf.’
The elder son became angry, and refused to go in. His father came out and pleaded with him. The son, very indignant, said, ‘Look, I have slaved for you all these years. Never have I disobeyed your orders. Yet you have never given me even a young goat to celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours returns, after squandering your property with loose women, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
The father said, ‘My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But this brother of yours was dead, and has come back to life; he was lost, and is found. And for that we had to rejoice and be glad.’”
If we were asked to choose among the four gospels one page which best summarizes the whole message of Jesus, we would have to choose this Parable of the Prodigal Son—which, incidentally, has been called “a gospel within the gospel” (Jülicher). Why does it best summarize the message of Jesus? Because it presents in the person of the father of the Prodigal Son, who stands for God in this story, a perfect image of who God is: pure love and nothing else.
Perhaps what best expresses the father’s unconditional love in the story is the way he welcomes his wayward son. He runs towards him, something unseeming in the Near East for a man of high social standing. He kisses his son repeatedly. He interrupts his son’s little speech: obviously he is not interested in the reason which brought his son back (and he certainly does not demand an apology for the pain his son has inflicted on him). His reaction is pure love at recovering a son he has always missed so badly.
Such is God’s love for us. As long as we go back to him (whether for good or bad reasons), that is enough for him.
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