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Father Muench Says...

Prodigal Son: parable about you and me

March 9, 2016

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

One of the images that you will hear a great deal about these final weeks of Lent is the Prodigal Son.  On a recent Sunday, you heard the Parable of the Prodigal Son read as the Gospel of the Mass.  Many of us priests will bring out into the sanctuary a copy of Rembrandt’s wonderful painting of the Prodigal Son.  It completely captures the message of Jesus’ parable.

So, you know the story – you have heard it often.  Remember, please, that this is a parable, a clever story that Jesus carefully formed to teach many lessons.  It didn’t really happen – okay – it is a story.  This is important to remember.  Jesus told these parables because he had something he wanted people to understand.  Being a great teacher, Jesus used stories.  By the way, Jesus’ parables are always about us – you and me.  So, in this parable, there are days when we are very similar to the Prodigal Son.  Then there are days when we are like the older son.
The Prodigal Son deserted his father, went on his own and then everything went wrong. He lost all his money so he decides to go back home. He is ready to admit his failings to his father and hope that his father will allow him to stay as a worker on the place.  Can you imagine how nervous he was as he walked down that road heading for his father’s house?  What is his father going to do – welcome him or reject him?

Jesus’ story describes what Jesus imagined happened.  The father sees the prodigal coming, sees him a long way off.  The father doesn’t stay sitting on the porch. He rushes down the road and welcomes his son back home with a big hug.  The boy doesn’t even have a chance to say anything. 

It is important to remember that Jesus’ parables are really about us.  Whenever we are separated from God and then are ready to return, to become repentant, God welcomes us. God welcomes us just like the father in the parable: with a big hug.  God truly welcomes us even before we say a word.  God welcomes us with love and mercy and forgiveness.  God loves us, even in our sins.

In Jesus story, the father celebrates the return of the prodigal with a party.  God celebrates the return of all sinners. 

Let me share this with you.  I remember well the first time the Religious Ed teacher suggested that the parish should have a party with the children after the First Confession ceremony.  It turned out to be a perfect idea. It certainly fit into the message of the parable.  I hope the children discovered the message.  Every time we approach God with repentance seeking his mercy and forgiveness there is a celebration – a celebration in heaven.  Jesus tells us that.

Now, the older son, he is angry.  His father has welcomed the prodigal home with no great demands and then thrown a party.  He, the older son, has stayed home and worked the farm.  Then, in Jesus’ story, the father steps up and goes out to talk with the older son, just as he did with the prodigal.

His message to the older son is important – really, wonderful.  He says this, “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.  But now we must celebrate and rejoice because your brother was dead and has come to life again, he was lost and has been found.”

So, we should remember that Jesus’ story is also about us and God the Father. Each sinner who goes through conversion is like a resurrection to new life in the spirit of Christ’s Resurrection.  God’s mercy and love is something we should all celebrate. 

We are grateful for God’s loving mercy to all sinners, loving them all even in their sins.  The older son doesn’t realize how wonderful his father’s love and mercy is; we must all realize how wonderful our God is to all sinners.
Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son (some people like to call this story the Parable of the Loving Father) is an open ended story.  Jesus leaves the ending up to us. 

How would you end this story? I know how I would finish it.   I would like to think that the older son listens to his father, recognizes his father’s great love and mercy for his sons and calms his anger. So he goes inside and welcomes his brother home.

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