Gospel Commentary: The Prodigal Son

The prodigal son. Perhaps the most famous parable in the Bible. You remember the story: the younger son takes the inheritance, wastes it all (hence the name prodigal), realizes that he made a mistake, apprehends that his father’s slaves have more than he, repents, returns home and receives pardon and mercy from his father. Then the older son approaches the father with the complaint that the young son sins and keeps receiving while he works and receives nothing. The older son has issues — the largest of which is that he considers himself a slave, not a son. The younger son makes the mistake that all of us have made and will continue to make in the course of our lives; we sin, we confess our sins, we are forgiven. Children do it constantly, don’t they? They misuse gifts, break toys, write on the walls with crayons and generally botch things up, but once they realize the error of their ways, they apologize to their parents and their parents forgive them. But how absurd it would be if their siblings were to question the parents’ generosity in continuing to supply them with goods? Which is precisely what the older son does, because he fails to appreciate the value of the father/son relationship. He fails to see what he does have. The younger son didn’t recognize this until he had nothing. The older son partook of the father’s table daily. He dwelt on his property. He shared the joy of family life. And yet all this was forgotten when he saw his brother return. His acerbic and callow response to the return of his brother indicates his true attitude — that of a servant. He saw his existence as one of master/servant. The master, as far as he was concerned, should have been beating the unworthy servant while rewarding the worthy one. Poor boy. Not only should he have been in agreement with the father’s actions, he should have joined him in rejoicing over the son’s return. Instead he sputters out a little philippic chastising the father for his actions and bemoaning his current state of life. Had he reflected correctly on his state of life, he would have been grateful to see his brother back in the good graces of his father. He errs. Don’t we all? We sing the woes when we really don’t have any reason to complain. We fret about our lacks and forget the abundance God showers upon us; in terms of grace, love and yes, even material goods. Which is one of the reasons we fast, pray and give alms. These penances remind us of how much God has truly given us. Because we are His children, adopted through the Incarnation and Paschal Mystery, we gain an inheritance, both here and in the Kingdom to come. We recall the great mercy He has shown us throughout our lives and in turn should respond with great mercy towards others. We acknowledge the tremendous love He has showered upon us and should respond by loving others. And we live that mercy and love with the assurance that our brethren receive and live the same. Fr. Gee is parochial vicar of Our Lady of Angels Parish in Woodbridge.

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2001