Sometimes, I believe that we have heard the Parable of the Prodigal Son so often, that we don’t or can’t hear it “anew” when it is used as the gospel reading in today’s liturgy. What might be new about the parable or about our reaction to it or to the insights we might glean from it this time around? First, perhaps, is that the Father “divided his property between them.” What that is telling me is that the Father, so respected in a Jewish household, seems to have kept nothing for himself, and now must depend on the brother who remains at home for everything. And, while we are told that the younger son does indeed spend all of his share of the money “on a life of dissipation,” it is the older brother who specifies that at the end of the story by saying to his father, “When your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fatted calf.” Then the father is put into the difficult position of defending the son for whose return he had obviously been waiting and then “caught sight of him while he was still a long way off.”
When we have sinned, do we truly believe (as the parable leads us to believe) that God is actually awaiting our return? Do we believe that God will be as generous, as merciful, and as forgiving as the father in the parable? In this Year of Mercy, do we dare think anything else?
—Fr. Michael A. Vincent, S.J. serves as associate pastor of the Church of the Gesu, University Heights, OH.