Tag Archives: prodigal son

The older son

…that son of yours…
Luke 15:20

The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15: 11-32), more aptly called the merciful and welcoming father, has a third character, the older son.

He is resentful that his father welcomed his younger brother whom he calls “that son of yours,” hardly recognizing him as a brother.

But what has struck me is that he claims that his brother wasted his inheritance on prostitutes. How does he know that?

His brother has been back for probably less than an hour. The parable only says that he wasted his inheritance recklessly, immorally, dissolutely. But the adverb used could mean a lot of things.

Why does the older brother claim that he wasted his money on prostitutes? We don’t know but, this being a parable, I think we can imagine that perhaps the older son was envious. Perhaps the older son, out of duty or fear, had wanted to consort with prostitutes but didn’t dare – in fear of what his father might think of him, fearful that his father might disinherit him.

And so the older son might have accused his brother of what he really wanted to do.

Of course, this is pure conjecture about a parable (which never really happened). But I think it reveals something about who we are.

Sometimes we are like the prodigal son and waste our fortune in a dissolute life, in whatever way “pleases” us. Sometimes we are like the older son who appears to be faithful but really is just afraid of getting caught.

But we really should learn from and imitate the father – rich in mercy, full of love. He not only welcomed the lost son but ran out to greet him when he saw him from afar. Perhaps he was looking down the road every day hoping to see his lost son.

That’s how God is – and how we are called to live as children of God, in love and not in fear, welcoming all.



Sadness and grieving

This morning there was an undercurrent of sadness in my prayer.

There are things happening here that fill me with sadness — the sadness of lost opportunities, the sadness of conflicts, and more.

And so when I read today’s Gospel of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32), I wondered whether the father too was grieving.

His youngest son leaves, with a gesture that feels like abandonment. He gets his inheritance and goes away, not giving any sign of returning.

But the father keeps watch – and finally catching sight of him from afar.

But when the father prepares a celebration of the return of the younger son, the older son stays outside, resentful. The older son also seems to abandon his father.

I wonder whether this father grieved at the loss of his sons and longed for their return.

Does God grieve for us – for our separation from him, in whatever way or for whatever reason?

Does God grieve for our world where there is so much abandonment of the poor?

Does God grieve for a church that misses opportunities to give people hope?

I think that God does grieve – but he also goes out to invite all of us into the banquet, into the joy of return, or recovering of the lost.

Grieving today, sad, I need to remember that God grieves with me – and that he promises joy.

Relationships and reconciliation

A week ago at the end of a retreat in a rural village, Marco Tulio commented on today’s Gospel of the prodigal son (Luke 15: 11-32) during the Celebration of the Word. He noted how the father addressed both sons as “son”.

I had noted before that the older son refused to acknowledge the younger son as his brother, referring to him as “that son of yours.” But he does not even address his father as “father.” Instead he emphasizes that he has been “slaving away” for so many years.

In contrast, his younger brother who had asked for his part of the inheritance (basically treating his father as already dead) thinks of his father when he is nearly dying of hunger. He decides to go, addresse his father as “Father,” admit his unworthiness and ask to be treated as a day laborer.

The older son sees his life as slavery and wants nothing to do with his brother (and maybe not even with his father). The younger, rebel son is willing to become a hired worker.

But the father sees both as sons. He asks the servants to welcome his younger son who has come back to life. He addresses his angry older son not merely as son, but as “child,” which seems a more familiar term.

The father wants relationships restored; he wants a family. He wants, as St. Paul writes in the second reading (2 Corinthians 5: 17-21), reconciliation.

But what makes this so hard.

In one sense, I think Gustavo Gutiérrez (Sharing the Word through the Liturgical Year, p. 61) is on to something. How often do we see following Christ as slavery, doing what we have to do, full of obligations – not as a response to God’s freely given love?

Failing to see the gratuitousness of live is failing to understand the gospel. By converting the gospel into a mere set of obligations, external rules or a guarantee to authorities without moral worth, we make a caricature of it. The gratuitousness of love alone guarantees its being creative of ways to express it…

We just have to slave away, doing what “God” commands.

But discipleship is something else.

I have just finished reading Timothy Radcliffe’s Take the Plunge: Living Baptism and Confirmation, which I highly recommend. Seeing following Christ as merely following commandments misses this dimension of relationship that God so wants from us. As the father, he goes out to meet both sons, who are precious in his sight.

Radcliffe puts it this way (p. 38):

Commandments in the Bible are given in the context of friendship with God and each other. They are not about control but the formation of a heart and mind for mutuality. They are the vastly demanding invitation to grow up into the true, genuine, equal love which is the Trinity. We are indeed loved without condition, but God’s friendship, like any friendship, transforms us.

So today let us respond in love,letting ourselves be transformed by God’s friendship, seeking reconciliation and relationship with God and with our sisters and brothers.

I think that’s what Lent is about.