The Prodigal Father?
April 15, 2014
My last article mentioned the parable of the Prodigal Son, but on several occasions I have been suggested to read this same parable through the eyes of the father… the prodigal father. When we use the word prodigal as pertaining to the son, we define him as being wasteful. But, if we define the father as prodigal, there is a different meaning altogether; a father who is overly abundant and luxuriant.
This parable begins with the younger son wanting his portion of the inheritance while the father is still alive. The son is implying that the father can no longer offer anything of importance to him except his money. That is what we are telling God when we sin, you are impinging on my freedom. You are not giving me life or enjoyment, but the sin will. He assumes he has a right to his father’s inheritance. The father responds to his son’s request in an expected way. He shows no animosity or malice towards his son, and instead, grants his son’s wish and allows him to leave.
Remember, this is a Jewish son who has left his father’s estate to live in a non-Jewish country where he spends away the fortune enriching the foes of the Jews. When he wastefully spends all his fortune, he is left destitute struggling to survive. He eventually finds a job feeding pigs, an animal considered by Jews to be unclean and inedible.
The pig represents the son’s sin. Sin divides us and scatters us from each other, from ourselves and from God. At first, his sin was pleasurable and self satisfying, but the pleasure was short lived and because of this, he now wallows in its consequence. The son faced two options for his life: continue to live in the consequences of his sin, or have the courage and humility to face his sin by asking for forgiveness, leaving behind his sin and to change. The son chose the latter and in his mind and rehearsed what he would say to his father. First, to beg forgiveness and second, to return as his father’s servant no longer worthy to be called his son.
When the son returns home, we see the father’s prodigal response to his son. The father is overly abundant in forgiveness, mercy and acceptance of his son. While still a distance away, the father caught sight of him. It was the father, not the son, who ran to meet the other. Notice how the son on his return home didn’t surprise the father by knocking at the door. This means the father had to have been looking out for his possible return on a daily basis! Also, at this time, running was for children, slaves or servants, not wealthy landowners. But, the well off Jewish man did not follow the social convention and ran to his son because of his joy of his son’s return.
As mentioned earlier when they met, his son was prepared to tell his father the two parts of his apology. In the parable, the father only allows him to say the first part. The son was forgiven and accepted back; no more was needed to be said. The prodigal son was not just forgiven, he was restored.
The next interesting part is found buried in the parable. The father met his son “a long way off” so he must have walked his son home upon meeting up with him. The father had to escort his son through the village because the villagers were aware of the son’s actions and would therefore inflict punishment for his sinful acts. Since this did not happen, it is evident the father walked the son safely through the village gauntlet.
The village represents our accusers and/or our own guilt and shame that we carry on even after forgiveness has been rendered. It’s our choice and free will to allow our Father to walk with us, to shield and protect us from all accusers found outside, and most importantly, from within our own self.
Back to the parable, the father now asks his servants to put the best robe on his son, along with a ring and sandals. These actions show that the father has truly forgiven his son and welcomed him back into the family. The father then calls for a party with a fattened calf to further express his abundant joy in his son’s return. The prodigal father, like our heavenly Father, is not reluctant to forgive. When we sin, whether great or small, if we return back to Him with a sincere and contrite heart, He is prodigally joyous of our return. Hard to believe, but it is true and every single time we return back to Him, He is prodigally joyous of our return!
I hope as this Lenten season comes to a close and Easter approaches that we all have had a conversion and have grown even closer to Him. The only way to know God the Father is to read scripture daily. Jesus showed us through His life who the Father is. When we read the Bible, we better understand Him and correct any incorrect preconceived notions we may have. As in the parable, He is eagerly waiting for us so He can run up and greet us. All that is required through our free will is to simply take that first step towards Him, so that we can receive the Father’s prodigal love and gifts He wants to give us. So the question is, what is stopping us from taking that first step?
References:1) The Prodigal Son Luke 15: 11-32 2) RCIA for Catholics*Session 3*Father or Adversary? 10/27/2007 by Fr. John Riccardo 3) 2013 Lenten Mission at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, San Antonio Texas led by Fr. Michael Boulette 4) Magnificat April 2014 vol. 16, no. 2 5) The Word Among Us March 5-April 20 2014