The Prodigal

A modern day prodigal son, after his wayward time in the far country, turned up in the neighboring parish to home. The priest at the church told him he should go back home as his father would surely kill the fatted calf for him. The young man did as he was advised. A while later, he saw the priest again. who asked him if his father had killed the fatted calf?

‘No’, he replied ‘but he very nearly killed the prodigal son.’

In the parable of the prodigal son, we have the very essence of the gospel of Christ summed up in the greatest of short stories. You can imagine the tax collectors and sinners hanging on every word, tears of remorse and joy welling up in their eyes. Looking back we might see that there have been times when we have behaved like the prodigal son: when we have not appreciated what we have, but wanted more; when we have  acted selfishly thinking and  disregarded the feelings of others. In asking for his inheritance early the younger son is saying that he wished his father dead; he is no use to him alive unless he can receive his inheritance early. And because his father loves him, he give it to him. As Jesus said elsewhere, if your son asked for an egg would you give him a stone.

While the son lives the high life he is popular, but he soon comes to realise that his fair-weather friends are only interested him while he is rich. Without money he is dead to them and they abandon him. Karma, comes to the boy, the Hindus would say. As Jesus says, as you sow so shall you reap.

No matter how old we are, we are all capable of making foolish and selfish decisions. Indeed as the saying goes. Age and experience should make us wiser, but that is not always the case.

However the young man is blessed with a humility that enables him to acknowledge his mistakes; he is not burdened with a pride that prevents him from seeking forgiveness. The constant love of his father that he was brought up with permits him to hope. He shows true repentance in that he is aware of his own wrongdoing and has hope of forgiveness. Compare him to Judas who was tormented by his  betrayal of Jesus but had lost hope of the certainty of forgiveness that his master had preached.

The unconditional love of the father shows up the hard-hearted nature of the other son, who broods with resentment. Resentment stunts his memory, it shrouds his vision and prevents him from seeing what the father has done for him over the years. He is blinkered by bitterness.

Forgiveness and new starts are at the heart of the gospel. It  perturbs me when  Christians do not want to forgive, not  can’t forgive, but won’t forgive. Forgiveness does not come easy, it is hard work, and can be a long process; but the first step has to be the desire to forgive. Over and over again in the Lord’s Prayer we say 'forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us'. We cannot ask God to forgive our sins if we will not forgive others. If we can, then we achieve salvation, we are set free from restrictive resentment. When we don’t, the gospel is devalued. 

We might have behaved like the younger or older son at different times in our lives. But our aspiration should be to be like the extraordinary Father, with his extravagant love, for he is the image of God. As Paul said in the Letter to the Romans, ‘God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.’

Yesterday, some of us were blessed with a wonderful day in Walsingham and Wells, spent with several of the guests from the Night Shelter . We had coffee with the sisters, visited the shrine; we had fish and chips and a boat trip out to sea. The Night Shelter ends its winter season and closes on Monday and several of them have nowhere to go. But it was good to be with them not as ‘the homeless’ but as individuals on a day out and to hear their stories. Looking back like all of us they could see mistakes they had made, things they regret, opportunities missed, chances used up, relationships broken and friendships lost. But when we stood in the Holy House before the image of Our Lady of Walsingham, adn offered up prayer, there was recognition and acceptance and hope. The Night Shelter had been like a surrogate family, a place of safety, a sanctuary.

The parable of the prodigal son reminds us that behind the drift and uncertainty of human affairs, brooding over them in infinite compassion there is a holy and eternal Father. There is a homecoming for all of us because there is a home. The door of the kingdom which leads to the Father’s house with its many rooms still stands open to all, as there is one who has died and risen to open it and who says to us ‘I am the way to the Father.’