Monday, March 11, 2013

The Prodigal Son

The Prodigal Son

Multiple commentary provided for this parable.
Insights divided into 4 parts

• Luke 15:1-3, 10-12
• Luke 15:12-16
• Luke 15:17-24
 Luke 15:25-32


Scripture Luke 15:1-3, 10-12

[1] Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.
[2] And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them."
[3] So he told them this parable:
[10] Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
[11] And he said, "There was a man who had two sons;
[12] and the younger of them said to his father, `Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.' And he divided his living between them.


We are drawn into the story. Why should this be so?
I think it speaks so eloquently of who God is and how we get into right relationship to Him.

Who is God?
How do we get into a right relationship to Him?

It is important to attend to the opening lines of this passage.
We hear that tax collectors and sinners were drawing close to Jesus and that Pharisees and scribes were complaining about this.

Keep those two groups in mind.

Jesus had a magnetic power, especially for those who felt excluded from the love of God.
But He also stirred up resentment, precisely by the very graciousness of His style.
The parable is a portrait of Jesus and of these two groups.
In other words it is a portrait of Divine Love and two typical responses to it.
The response of the sinner and of the self righteously religious.

Lets look at the younger son, who symbolises the sinner.

The one in open rebellion against God. the younger son egregiously insults his father.
How? By demanding his inheritance immediately.
Maybe it doesn't strike us as so negative boy it would have struck a first century listener to the story.
In asking for his inheritance now, the son is basically telling his father "I wish you were dead".
You get your inheritance when the father dies, but to ask for it right now is basically to say I wish you were dead.
Can you hardly imagine a worse way to insult your father than that?

Well that father, oblivious to the insult, gives the son exactly what he wants.
The spiritual symbolism here is quite exact.

Many of us want the gifts of God.
We want existence, life , success, health, love but without a relationship to the giver.

We want those gifts but on our terms.
We want to make them our own possession.
That is why it is so powerful when the younger son says give me my share of the inheritance coming to me.
The Greek work for inheritance means" substance" in a more philosophical way, but it also means money.
The money that I can have and put in my pocket.
You see what he is doing - he is taking the gift of the father and turning it into his own possession.
Give me my share coming to me. Three times he says me, me, me.

But see this will never work spiritually.

Source: Fr Robert Barron

In effect, the father impoverishes himself.
Notably, the son has not told his father what he is going to do with it.
Ostensibly, one could think that the son was looking to simply take responsibility of the family’s goods he would one day receive.
(Though, given the fact that son has basically declared the death of his father, his next actions are not at all surprising).
Yet, instead of sticking around and managing the family estate he has been entrusted with, he takes off with it!

Dr Michael Barber


Scripture Luke 15:12-16

and the younger of them said to his father, `Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.' And he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything.


These gifts come from a giver. They come from a transcendent source. When we wander away from that source, refusing to acknowledge the source, the gifts dry up.

The divine life only exists in gift form. God is the one who gives and that is precisely why the younger son wanders into a distant country (the cora macra) but in the Greek it means the great emptiness. That is exactly where you wander when you wander away from the source.

We hear that he squandered his wealth.
You see, the goods that you have from God when they are divorced from any relationship to the source they will dry up.
That is basic principle of spiritual physics.

When you grab the gifts from God, when you divorce them from the source, they will dry up.

Next we read, a severe famine struck that country. He hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him out to tend the swine.
What an insult for a Jew by the way. He longed to eat his fill on the pods on which the swine fed. In other words he become himself a pig.
But no one gave him anything.
How beautiful.

He is in the Cora Macra - the great empty place. More to it, a famine breaks out.
That is spiritual language about how we dry up and become lifeless when divorced from God.
In fact we become less than human.
One of the keys friends, is that little line at the end of this section – “but no one gave him anything”.

What land has he wandered into?

The land of calculation, of contract, of tit for tat.
I'll give you something, you give me something back.

But it is not the land of graciousness, of gratuitousness. Ahh that is where his father lives. That is his fathers country.

Source: Fr Robert Barron

Not only does he abandon the family, he squanders what he received from his father on debauchery - i.e., “loose living” (Luke 15:13) and harlots (Luke 15:30).
It is interesting that here sexual immorality is linked with the lack of responsibility to family, but here we need to resist an interesting tangent.

Ultimately, the son finds himself without any money in a foreign land.
To make matters, there’s a famine.
He ends up with nothing.

He joins himself to one of the citizens of the country he is in (Luke 15:15) and ends up feeding his swine (Luke 15:16) - which were of course known as unclean animals (Lev 11:7; Deut 14:8; 1 Macc 1:47; b. B. Qam. 82b).

Even the food of the pigs looks good to him (cf. Luke 15:16).
The man has, in a sense, been reduced to the level of the swine - he is among them, one of the “unclean”.

By working for a foreigner, who in all likelihood does not honor the Sabbath command given to Israel, he is essentially completely cut off from his God, his family and reduced to servitude.
It is important to point out that when the famine comes “no one gave him anything” (Luke 15:16).

In fact, the only person who ever gave him anything was his father - the very person he has rejected.

The son opted for the people in this distant land over him, but now that he has run out of money, they have kicked him to the side of the road - or at least, to serve alongside the pigs.

Source: Dr Michael Barber


Scripture Luke 15:17-24

But when he came to himself he said, `How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants."'

And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, `Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to make merry.

Comment (3 insights)

The Father is not a blood-thirsty tyrant whose wrath is appeased by the suffering of Jesus.

He is the loving Father in the story of the Prodigal Son who respects his son’s freedom too much to force him to stay, or to send a posse after him once his sins led him to the brink of despair.

The Prodigal Son walked away in arrogance. He would himself have to travel the road back in humility.

Adam, Eve and all of us walked away in pride. We, their sons and daughters, would have to walk back in humility.
Trouble was, we couldn’t, so deeply had we been wounded by sin.
So God became man and walked the road for us, though it turned out to be the way of the cross.

Perfect humility.
Perfect love.
Perfect suffering.

Relentless and undeterred by every conceivable stumbling block and snare that hell could put in its way.
That is what redeemed us and paid the debt of our sins.

Source: Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio

At this point we hear that the man “comes to himself” (eis heauton erchosthai). Here Jesus uses an idiom that is found in non-biblical literature. The phrase here does not quite mean “repentance”. In sum, the man has simply “come to his senses” by realizing that his fathers’ servants are better treated than he is.

He therefore comes up with a plan.
He will go back and beg his father to take him back, not as a son but as one of his hired hands.

We should note this dichotomy between sonship and servanthood, because, as we shall see, it is key in the story.
The son realizes that he has renounced his sonship.
But even the servants of his father are better than he is in his present state.

You Can Go Home Again
He thus comes up with a good spiel, which he hopes will allow him to return to his father’s house. He plans to go to his father and say: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants” (Luke 15:18–19). He sets off for home.
His father, however, sees his son “while he was yet at a distance” (Luke 15:20).

It seems the father has been looking off into the horizon.
The sense one gets is that he was looking, just waiting, to see his son return.
One is reminded of the story in Tobit: “Now Anna sat looking intently down the road for her son. And she caught sight of him coming, and said to his father, ‘Behold, your son is coming, and so is the man who went with him!’” (Tob 11:5–6).

His father’s joy at seeing his son returning is immediately apparent. His acceptance of his son precedes his son’s request for reconciliation - a reminder that we do not need to somehow impress our heavenly Father in order to turn his attention towards us. God is always waiting for us to return to him - He loves us far more than we could ever ask him to love us!

In fact, the son isn’t even able to complete the carefully rehearsed speech he has prepared for his father. He says, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21). Yet before he can finish the last lines of his prepared speech (i.e., “treat me as one of your hired servants”), his father exclaims, “‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found’” (Luke 15:22–24).

The son is not welcomed back into the family because of his own clever speech - in fact, the father takes him back even before he can fully get through it.
This is a reminder that salvation is a grace. As St. Paul says, “. . . no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3).

Source: Dr Michael Barber

Having hit bottom, he decides to return home. And so it goes, and this is good news with many sinners.
Maybe many people listening (reading) this right now are finding them in this place.
You think you have entered the high life but divorced from God you have dried up.
Maybe you have been down that road for a long time, the path of self indulgence.

Perhaps you have reached bottom like the prodigal son.

Talk to anybody who is in a serious addition to sex, money, drugs, power and that is exactly the land where they have wandered into and they will inevitably hit bottom.

Notice too please, the young man has to decide to return.
God is love, right through. God is gracious love, that's true but this God, because He is gracious love always respects our freedom.
You see without freedom our lives wouldn't really be ours.
God doesn't want puppets. He wants friends.
It is decisive. It is absolutely indispensable in this process.

You have got to muster the freedom, the courage, the energy to turn back.
But here is the thing.
Grace floods in, the moment this happens.

Because all this time the father has been waiting and watching and the moment he sees his son he runs.

How embarrassing that was. An older man in this Jewish culture would sit. People would come to him. For the old man to run was embarrassing.

So our God full of grace. He embraces this young man.
He puts a ring on his finger and a robe on him.
God is lavishing his love.
He wants to bring us back into the circle of His grace and this grace is above all joyful.
It involves celebration.

"I have come to bring you joy and that your joy might be complete" That is what Jesus says and that is the attitude of the Father.
He gives and gives and gives.
All he wants if for us to receive that grace and then become ourselves a conduit of it.

That is what God wants.

Source: Fr Robert Barron


Scripture Luke 15:25-32

"Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. And he said to him, `Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.' But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, `Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!' And he said to him, `Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'"


Now we get to the older son. Upon hearing that his brother has returned, the elder son refuses to go into the feast and welcome his brother back. His speech to his father is revealing: “‘Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!’” (Luke 15:29–30).

Notice that elder son describes his relationship with his father in terms of a servant—he, in effect, does not relate to him as a son but as a slave. He “serves”, and “obeys his father’s commandments”. Moreover, the reason for his service is not love but self-interest; he resents his father for not giving him anything. In a sense, the elder son, like the younger son, renounces his sonship for slavery.

He even refuses to identify his brother as his brother (i.e., “this son of yours”) - he cuts himself off from the family. He does not want to feast with his family but with “my friends”.

The father however refuses to cut his son off― ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.

It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” Just as the father is eager to reconcile with the younger brother, so too he continues to reach out in love to his other son, reminding him of his place in his house.

The elder son may cease to identify himself as a member of the family; the father, however, never ceases to call him “son”.

Source: Dr Michael Barber

But as the party gets underway, the older brother we hear is out in the field.

Remember now the two audiences that Jesus is addressing.
This brother represents the scribes and the Pharisees.
He has stayed, in one sense, close to the father. He is not like his brother who demanded his inheritance now.

He is not like his brother who wandered far away but his attitude reveals that he is very far away indeed spiritually from his father. He might be close to him physically but he hasn't gotten him at all.

He broods with anger and resentment at the party thrown for this wasteful brother of his.
So just as the father went out to meet the younger boy, so he goes out to meet the elder.
Listen to older brother speak. It gives away the whole game.

Look, all these years I have served you and not once did I disobey your orders.
See how little he understands his father. Slaving and obeying are not the responses of one who has fallen in love.

He has not caught the fathers effervescent generosity but rather he construes their relationship as one of contract and calculation, slaving, working, obeying.

This is the religious person who is no fun at all. This is the puritan. The censorious critic. The self righteous Pharisee.
The one who is always sensitive to the illegitimate rewards other people are getting. The one who calculates and measures and weighs. That is the older brother.

Listen now to the father.

My son, you are here with me always. everything I have is yours.
There is the language of grace. If only the brother can hear it. Take the gifts I want you to have. Let them surge through you and become gifts for others and then you would be ready to join in the celebration.

Friends, here is the question - a good Lenten question:
Which brother are you?
Let this story wash over you. Move into the dynamics of the story.

Identify where you are spiritually.
Are you ready to enter in to the rhythm of grace?
Are you ready to respond to this Father who wants nothing more than for you to be fully alive?
If you are you have become a saint.

God bless you.

Source: Fr Robert Barron

Reflection - The scandal of grace

Many of us, if we are honest, will admit to a feeling of empathy with the elder brother of the prodigal son (Lk 15). Here he is, the dutiful son, working hard year after year, doing all his father asks without complaint. "I never once disobeyed you." And for what? His renegade brother turns up after 'swallowing up your property with prostitutes', and is he punished? Not a bit of it. The red carpet is put out, the fatted calf killed and a huge party put on for him. 'Yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends,' he bitterly accuses his father.

In Rembrandt's painting, the elder brother stands with his back to his father. You see his anger, even rage, in his stiff posture, his stern unsmiling look. No way could he join in the 'Welcome back' celebrations for this blackguard of a brother.

His bitterness rises like bile and the image of the good and dutiful son cracks as resentment pours out of him. The unfairness of it. He has worked so hard all these years, sweated his life out, managed the property - and for what? When 'your son'- not, note, 'my brother'- returns after his fun and games, you, our father, welcome him with open arms.

With shocking clarity we see the joyless spirit of this responsible man. Yes, he did his duty, he was the 'good' son, helping his father. And all the while, unknown perhaps even to himself, he harboured a seething resentment. How dare his feckless brother come back, even to be a servant! But worst of all, how could his father open his arms to this wretch of a son? His anger boiled over and now, maybe for the first time, he disobeyed him and refused to join in the celebration, refused to share in the joy of his father.

"He welcomes sinners and eats with them" (Lk 12:2). This complaint of the upright scribes and Pharisees, dutiful keepers of the law, is what triggered off the story of the two sons and their father. The scandal of grace. The scandal of really, warmly, welcoming the sinner. No accusations. No pound of flesh. No punishment. 'Quick!' the father says to the servants. Quick. Don't delay. Don't judge. Quick - make him feel at home. Celebrate.

If we feel for the elder son is it because of an unwanted suspicion that under our veneer of goodness lurks a similar pharisaic persona? Little things give us away; our lack of joy, for example when a colleague gets the promotion we felt was our due. The way we smart when others don't appreciate all we do for them. The resentment that rises up when another is the life and soul of the party while we are left slaving in the kitchen. Whinging and whining, even though it is hidden under our 'lovely' smile, we shrivel and our hearts turn to stone.

Let us take a good look at the elder son this Lent. All the years he lived with this wonderful father and yet did not know him. Are we, with all our years of 'goodness' any better? How well do we know the Father? How well do we know Jesus, the beloved Son who will lead us to him? Can we believe the Father when he tells us, 'All that is mine is yours'? Will we believe him today?

Source: Sister Redempta Twomey is a Columban Sister living in Ireland

No comments:

Post a Comment