I always really liked this reading from Luke, usually referred to as the “Parable of the Prodigal Son.” There is so much to this, if we take the time to look. But at it’s most basic, and honestly, now, what sinner (like me) wouldn’t love to hear how, no matter what he did, this guy’s father not only welcomed him home, but threw what must have been the Block Party of the Century! This is truly beautiful.
But Jesus’ amazingly deep story reveals to me that it’s not this reckless son who is the truly prodigal one.
If we take a look at the word, we’ll find that the word prodigal is defined as a person who spends resources in a wastefully extravagant way. The Latin root is prodigus, which means lavish. And if we take a moment to truly look at the story, we’ll find the father in this parable giving freely to his son not only his money, or his food, but his unending love and care. “While he was still a long way off, he caught sight of him and was moved with compassion.” (Lk 15:20) This parent squandered the fortune of himself as he, lavishly, wastefully, and extravagantly, would let his love flow out like a flood washing over his son, a sinner.
The truly “prodigal” one is not the son… it’s the Father, and that image of God, for me, is so beautiful.
But wait… There’s even more: The older son is upset! He doesn’t understand why the father is so forgiving of his evil little brother. Wow, I can identify with that. Why be so lenient? The younger brother got exactly what he asked for and, not respecting it, thoughtlessly squandered it all. How incredibly silly of him!
But, again, it’s the Father’s response which hits me like a ton of bricks – “Everything I have is yours.” He, without reservation, still gives and loves and supports, no matter what.
No matter what.
If I look in the mirror, I wonder which of these three I identify with most. Could it be the wasteful son? Sometimes, yes. Or the older son, who is faithful and serving always? Hopefully a little more often than the other, yes, but still – sometimes. And perhaps it could even be the Father, loving so deeply that he would unreservedly and with reckless abandon give every little bit of himself to those he loves? Yes – I’ve felt that sometimes (although if I’m going to be completely honest, I’m ashamed to say it’s been way rarer than either of the other two).
This leaves me with some questions I really don’t want to contemplate or have to answer…
How have I been wasteful and negligent with the gifts I’ve been given?
How many times have I squandered not love, but hate – or turned my back on someone that hurt me?
How easily do I forgive?
Do I even give at all?
Prodigal God, thank you for squandering your most amazing love on us, no matter what.
Please grant us the grace to be the Prodigal one – let me run to, greet, embrace, and throw my forgiveness and love over everyone, as we start on the road home to You, together. Amen.
Paul Puccinelli is Director of Liturgy & Music at St. Rita Parish in Sierra Madre, CA, and a member of the Retreat-Team at Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center.