All of us are in need of continuous homecoming to God who is unconditional in his love and who alone can lead us to proper relationships with him and with one another.
Today’s gospel pericope (Luke 15:1-32) is considered by many Biblical scholars as the heart of the gospel of Luke. If one gets the message of this passage, he gets not only the entire message of the Lukan gospel but also the entire message of Jesus Christ. The message is that God does not only love sinners or the lost unconditionally; he persistently seeks after them and welcomes them with joy.
Consisting of a trio of parables (the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin and the parable of the lost son), the pericope is regarded as Jesus’ response to the criticism of the scribes and the Pharisees that those who are considered worthless and lost are actually the predilect of the Kingdom of God. The lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son would have been judged not worth searching for by the scribes and the Pharisees. Patricia Datchuck Sanchez comments: “After all, what logical person would leave a herd of 99 sheep to search for a stray? And who would actually sweep clean a house to find one coin when they had nine others? And who would open him/herself to greater misery by seeking out a prodigal child who had disgraced the family name and disassociated himself from the sacred heritage when you have another fine and upright son at home?”
While the first two parables are given to set the stage for the increase of the pathos of the message of the pericope, all the three of them are actually intended to show the “illogical” ways of God and to challenge the readers to similarly open themselves to an unconditional and forgiving acceptance of and care for others, especially those considered the lost as well as the last and the least by the society.
The third parable has been traditionally called the parable of the prodigal son. This may not be a very appropriate title. The lost son in the story is only recklessly extravagant in wasting his inheritance, but the father is actually the one who shows limitless prodigality in his love for, forgiveness of and patience with both sons. Thus, the story, as some commentators say, may be better renamed as the parable of the prodigal father.
In this reflection, we prefer to call the third story the parable of the prodigal father and the two lost sons. The father’s unconditional love is never diminished by the faults of both sons. His love for his younger son remains despite his going wayward. It is a love that waits for, seeks, welcomes and rejoices at the homecoming of his lost son. His love for his elder son is appreciative and patient. While he recognizes his elder son’s fidelity for always being with him, he tries to lead him to a relationship with him that goes beyond the sense of filial duties and to a relationship with his younger brother that is more embracing, welcoming, forgiving and unconditional. “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”
An in-depth reflection on the story reveals that both sons are actually lost and in need of conversion and that both need to return to their father and to one another. The younger son’s faults include leaving his father and brother and their home, asking for his inheritance prematurely as his father is still alive, squandering his inheritance and living a disrepute life away from home. The elder son’s faults include seeing himself more as a servant of his father rather than as a son, not truly recognizing his younger brother as his brother (“When this son of yours…”), harboring resentment against his younger brother and his return, and failing to rejoice with his father at the return of his brother.
In the story, the homecoming of the younger son to the welcoming embrace of his prodigal father is accomplished. He gets reconciled with his father who unconditionally and lavishly forgives, welcomes and reinstates him to his status as one of his two sons. We do not really know what happens to the elder son in relation to his father and to his younger brother. The parable is open-ended and is still being told. It continues to be a reminder of the need for everyone to always return to the compassionate God, as represented by the father, and to our brothers and sisters, as represented by the younger son. All of us are in need of continuous homecoming to God who is unconditional in his love and who alone can lead us to proper relationships with him and with one another.