The parable of the Prodigal Son is the wonderful story of a father’s love for his child. A young and rambunctious child asks for the Father’s inheritance. In a small town where everyone knew everyone else, word would travel about his act of disrespect. This act would bring shame on the family, but the youngest son just wants to enjoy life. After losing everything, the young man comes to his senses and returns home to become a hired servant but at least a fed, clothed and housed person who could live a better life than he was living feeding hogs.
When the father sees the young son he thought he had lost forever coming, he acts out of love and rushes to him and accepts him back as a son. This is more than the son was hoping for even though he knew that he would not get an inheritance when his father died.
When the brother, who was out working hard in the fields, comes into the house in the evening, he hears music, dancing and smells the meat cooking. He asks one of the servants what is happening and learns that his youngest brother has returned home, and his father butchered the fattened calf. A fattened calf would feed over a hundred people so the he knew the father was inviting the whole town. What would the town people say? What a disgrace to be talked about like that.
The older brother is angry and refuses to come into the house. This act of defiance hurts the father as much as losing his youngest son when the youngest took his inheritance and left home for a foreign land. The wonderful part of this parable is that the father has the same compassion for the eldest son that the father has for the Prodigal Son.
The father comes out and pleads with his oldest son, tries to reason with him but the oldest son will have nothing to do with the celebration. He is resentful that the father is celebrating and accepting his no-good brother back as a son. It would be bad enough to accept him as a servant after the shame his younger brother brought upon the family but to accept him back as a son was unforgivable!
The older brother throws it back in his father’s face the terrible life that his no-good brother lived and how good a life he lived. He always obeyed his father and worked hard in the fields to increase the value of his father and his land. Not that he had ever asked for a feast with his friends in the past, but now it becomes important to him in his jealousy of his brother and he throws it up to his father.
We often hear homilies about the father’s great love to accept the Prodigal Son back as his son, but we seldom address the older brother. It is doubtful that many of us are like the youngest son; for one thing, it is even rarer to receive an inheritance early today than it was back then. And most of us have not spent our lives living off our parents when we were in our twenties, thirties or forties.
We consider ourselves good Christians; maybe even cradle Catholics who have attended mass all our lives, we always followed the rules and helped others. We consider ourselves better than those who live a shameful life injecting drugs and living a life of prostitution or stealing to pay for the drugs they so desperately need, just like the Prodigal Son. We may even look down on those people who live like that, just like the Pharisees and scribes that Jesus was addressing in this parable.
We live in our own little world in the United States that is unlike the reality that the rest of the world lives in today and throughout history. We would not consider ourselves wealthy in our society in the United States today, but we are wealthy beyond belief to most of the world. Indeed, God has blessed us as a nation and that is evidenced by the throngs of immigrants trying to enter our country to live in a land of plenty.
Our society and social media teach us that these immigrants are bad people. Yes, a few of them probably are bad, but the majority only want safety for their family with food and shelter for them. They want the same freedoms we have that they could never obtain in the countries where they were born. How do we feel about the immigrant? Do we consider them “Those people”? The term “Those people” usually refers to someone we look down on as less than us.
Do we feel that the immigrants trying to enter our country are individual people, families with spouses and children, trying to find a better life? Do we wish they would go home, or do we pray that they will be able to enter our country and find the life they only dream of for their family?
How do we feel about drug addicts? Do we wish the addict would disappear from the street corner where we see them? Or do we pray that they find the help they need to be able to quit the drugs that are destroying them? Would we welcome them if they came to our church and sat next to us for mass in their tattered and torn clothing?
The father loved both of his sons. He accepted the wayward son who shamed the family and the son who resented his father’s love for the wayward son. Which son are we? Have we squandered the opportunities that came our way? Or do we act like the older brother; resentful that our father cares for the sinner who disobeys God’s law and the law and order of the land?
As we continue our Lenten Journey, let us examine our hearts and conscience to honestly determine how we really look at others. Which son are we? Are we like the son who sinned in public view where all could see? Or are we like the son who followed the rules but sinned in our hearts? It really doesn’t matter. God loves both us the same. Let us prayerfully ask God for his love and mercy to consume us with forgiveness for our sins and compassion for others.