The Prodigal Son, also known as the Lost Son, is one of the best known parables of Jesus. Yet it appears only in the Gospel of Luke. It is read on this Sunday as a reminder of God’s mercy, taught to us in the lesson of Lent, and the great incarnation of Easter. A refresher course, if you will.
It is the third and final member of a trilogy, following the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost Coin.
This makes up a dual plea for repentance to the audience of Publicans and sinners and a rebuttal to the listening Pharisees.
The Pharisees’ accusation to Jesus had been: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” They may have been referring obliquely to Psalm 1:1:
Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
Their reaction to Jesus associating with sinners was equivalent to the reaction of the faithful son in the parable.
In Pope John Paul’s Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy) discussing Jesus’ teachings on mercy. He puts forth the Parable of the Prodigal Son as an especially vivid illustration of God’s mercy for man. John Paul stresses the interior need of the son that brings about his need for reconciliation.
Above all, he enlarges on the reaction of the son’s father, who welcomes him with unbounded merciful love, rather than a mere insistence on justice. John Paul points out that the father’s reaction is based on more than mere sentiment, but on a deeper understanding of what his son really needs:
“Notice, the father is aware that a fundamental good has been saved: the good of his son’s humanity. Although the son has squandered the inheritance, nevertheless his humanity is saved.”
The Pope makes the point that this parable illustrates that mercy is best judged not from the mere externals, but from a deeper examination of what it does to the interior of man.
One common kontakion hymn (for the Eastern Othodox Church) of the occasion reads;
I have recklessly forgotten Your glory, O Father;
And among sinners I have scattered the riches which You gave to me.
And now I cry to You as the Prodigal:
I have sinned before You, O merciful Father;
Receive me as a penitent and make me as one of Your hired servants.
So what does all this mean to us?
If we are truly sorry, in our heart of hearts, for our sins and misgivings, we will be forgiven, no questions asked. On the spot we will be welcome into the Kingdom of Heaven, if we are truly sorry.
The penalty is our rewards will not be as great, but all of the benefits will still be there, if we are truly repentant.