The beginning of today’s gospel sets the scene: tax collectors and sinners were gathered around Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law saw this and disapproved: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So, Jesus tells stories (parables) to explain the loving mercy of God, one of them being the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the most compelling parables in the Gospels, because we can relate to the characters in this family story:
–The prodigal son who left his family, taking his inheritance, and squandering it on “wine, women and song”,
–The merciful father who hoped and prayed and watched on the road for his son to return.
–The dutiful son who stayed and worked the land with his father, and who resented the lavish celebration that his father made when his brother returned.
How could we see ourselves in these people?
Because of the years I volunteered with the Catholic chaplain in a women’s prison, I better understand the prodigal son’s surprise, relief, and joy when he was welcomed home. We held a Penance service during the weekend retreats we offered at the prison, and we suggested that the women hear the parable as the “Prodigal Daughter”. As women after woman shared her sorrow and regret during the service, I owned up to those areas in my life where I had been selfish and hurt people I loved. After the Penance service, there was a deep sense of peace and joy in the room; despite everything we had done, we were still loved and cherished by God!
Now, as a parent and grandparent, I relate to the father on the edge of the road, looking and hoping for signs of life in my daughter, my son-in-law, my grandson, and my many nieces, nephews, and godchildren. Some choices they have made as adults have scared or saddened me. I pray for the grace to be like the father in the parable: to be “filled with compassion”, and give my affection freely, building up and never tearing down those whom I love.
In this Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus gives us a look into the heart of God, the Compassionate One, the father celebrating his prodigal son’s return. In today’s first reading from Micah, the prophet sums it up in his prayer:
“Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt
and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance;
Who does not persist in anger forever,
but delights rather in mercy,
and will again have compassion on us, treading underfoot our guilt?” Micah 7:18-19
Patty Gillis is a retired Pastoral Minister. She served on the Board of Directors at St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat and Conference Center in Detroit. She is currently a member of the Laudato Si Vision Fulfillment Team and the Passionist Solidarity Network.