The parable of “The Prodigal Son” (Luke 15:11-32) is one that most of us are very familiar with, so much so that when that particular Gospel comes, we might be likely to tune it out. Yes, yes, we nod. We know all the angles of this story.
First, there is the prodigal son himself. He is the sinner. We have all been there. We make a royal mess of things. We sin and sin and sin some more, until, eventually (hopefully!) we wake up one morning and realize the error of our ways and come crawling on our knees back to God to beg forgiveness and to begin anew.
Then, there is the older brother. Oh yes, we have been there, too. I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many times I have felt like the Prodigal Son’s older sister! The rant goes something like this — “It’s just not fair, God! I’ve been faithful. You are giving good things to everyone else but me, and I’m not very happy about it.” This is generally accompanied by pouting which could make a two-year-old proud. It isn’t pretty. My selfishness and pride and envy come through in full effect, which pretty much reduces me to the Prodigal Son level where I have to go crawling back to God yet again.
And there is the loving Father, welcoming back the Prodigal Son with fatted calf and a huge party. God waits, patiently and lovingly, for us to return. He’s even there with us when we are being more like the older brother.
It was because of this intimate familiarity with this story that a recent reflection made me stand up and take notice — it made me view this parable in a new light. Sr. Kathryn James Hermes, F.S.P. writing in “Living Faith” commented, “But from the Garden of Eden, to the desert where the Chosen People rebelled against the Lord, to the Prodigal Son who takes his life into his own hands turning his back on the Father, to the hill of Calvary, clearly the way we deal with sin is deeply connected with who we become.” That one line about the Prodigal Son really struck me. He wanted to take his life into his own hands. That’s what sin comes down to, isn’t it? We think that we know better than God. After all, who needs the Ten Commandments? Who needs the Church? Who needs prayer? Not us. Instead of bowing before God and trying to align our will with His, we try to go our own way. We convince ourselves we can do this on our own. We fool ourselves that we can handle whatever comes our way — until we can’t and life becomes such a mess that we turn to God in desperation. Thankfully, God is always waiting with open arms for us to return.