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March 23: Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

Reading Micah 7:14-15,18-20
Gospel Luke 15:1-3,11-32

“‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.’”

As we dig into the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we should be mindful that the title that modern editors have given this parable is distracting. When a child begins to hear Bible stories—when Grandma says to Jimmy, “This morning I want to tell you the Parable of the Prodigal Son”—Jimmy naturally thinks that the prodigal son is the focus of the story. While it’s certainly not false to call it the Parable of the Prodigal Son, it is distracting. To call it the Parable of the Prodigal Son distracts us from the joy of the father.

Although the father is more the focus of the parable than the son, the character of the son deepens our understanding of the father. But this prodigal son is—to put it mildly—an an unflattering and unattractive character. The younger son says, “‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’” In other words, this son is saying, “All you’re good for, Dad, is your money. I don’t want to wait until you die to get your money. Give it to me now, so that I can move on with my life: without you.”

This attitude towards his father is itself far worse than the son’s following choices, by which he wastes all that his father gave him. Nonetheless, the insensitivity and baseness of this son highlight the sensitivity and depth of his father, which shine forth in the second half of the parable.

The second half of the parable shows us why we ought to call it the Parable of the Prodigal Father. If the younger son is prodigal, so is the father, though of course in a different way. The word “prodigal” means “lavish” or “extravagant”. The son is extravagant in giving away money that is not his own, but the father is extravagant in giving away mercy from the wellsprings of his heart.

The joy of this father is the focus of Jesus’ teaching. That’s why he tells this parable to His disciples, including you and me. Yes, of course the prodigal son is a key figure in the parable. The parable wouldn’t make sense without him. But the focus here is not the sins of the son, but rather on the joy of the father.

When you transpose this parable to your own life, then, you need to recognize that God the Father’s joy is infinitely greater than your sins. A lot of Christians get caught up on this. Many Christians stay away from God because they do not believe that He is even more loving as the prodigal father. This may be due to the example set by their earthly fathers. This may be due to having committed a mortal sin of such depth that they don’t believe it possible for God to forgive them. Whatever the reason, they and we need to turn to the Father whom Jesus describes through this master parable.