The parable that Jesus tells in today’s Gospel has always been one of my favorites. It’s a parable that I’m sure many of you know, or that most of you have at least heard. It is yet another example of Jesus telling us about unconditional love. God’s love for each one of us.
But that’s not why it is one of my favorite parables.
It is one of my favorite stories because I can easily place myself in the story, and not just as one of the characters we come to know as we listen, but I can place myself in the story as any of the characters. For me it is simply a matter of what is going on in my life at that moment.
And so I’m going to ask you to try and put yourself into the story at different times in your life and see if you can remember when you acted like these characters.
First as the younger son. Have you ever said, or done something hurtful to someone who loves you? Maybe your mother of father, maybe a spouse, or perhaps some other significant person in your life. That’s what the younger son did when he asked his father for his share of the inheritance. Essentially, he looked as his father and said I don’t care about you, and I don’t place any value on the things that you have done for me. He looked at his father and said you are dead to me! And then he went and lived a prodigal (wasteful, extravagant) life, spending freely what he had and never caring about anyone but himself.
As I look back over my life I know that I have behaved that way at times. Maybe not in the words that he used and maybe not by telling my parents that I didn’t care what they thought, but as I reflect on my life I know that I have said things to people who love me and care about me that, in retrospect I know were very hurtful. Of course at that moment I didn’t think that what I was saying was so wrong, after all I was being independent, thinking for myself. Unfortunately, I can look back and see that although I was able to justify my actions at the time I still had a great deal to learn about life, and love, and relationships. As much as I hate to admit it I was, and probably at times still am, the younger son. The Prodigal Son.
The good news for the younger son, and for anyone of us who can place ourselves in that role, is that there is always hope, and that when the person we have hurt truly loves us there will be forgiveness.
Now, place yourself in the story as the older brother. Can you think of a time when, because of circumstances, you were so angry at someone that you couldn’t feel any love for the other person in the situation? You couldn’t bring yourself to forgive. Again, not real hard for me to see this behavior in my own past. Times when I judged someone by a standard that I set for them without knowing the whole story. Without knowing what their journey had been like to bring them to do, or say whatever it was that I judged as wrong.
In my mind they said, or did something that I thought they shouldn’t have done, and now I wasn’t going to have anything to do with them. Times when my actions were probably not what Jesus and God have done for me more time than I can count.
And finally the father, maybe we should call him the Prodigal Father… because his behavior, his actions personify the other definition of prodigal… to give generously, or lavishly, or unsparingly.
As you think about your own life have there been times when you gave without thinking about the cost? Have you loved unconditionally?
I suspect most everyone here has, at some point in their life given without thinking about the cost, or loved unconditionally.
And that love that the Prodigal Father shows for his repentant prodigal son, the love that God shows for each and every one of us every moment of every day, is what this parable is all about.
Imagine what the world would be like if each one of us lived like the Prodigal Father!