The Parable of the Prodigal Son – or simply The Prodigal – is undoubtedly one of the most famous and familiar of Jesus’ parables. Its popularity is very closely linked to the title it has been given. It is the title character who makes the parable memorable.
The idea of a son literally forcing his father to dispense an inheritance which is not earned in the first place and then squandering it in frivolous luxury is deplorable in many cultures. For many, that is the despicable aspect of the other person – the one we can point fingers at. It is attractive when it is not speaking to me.
For others too, it is a good reminder to repent, especially since we know we have a loving Father who forgives unconditionally. It is comforting to know there is the Father who will take us back if we come back home, no matter how or how much we wasted in rebellious living. It is indeed for this very reason that some see the Father as the center of the parable.
Still, some would focus on the older son and his jealousy and unforgiving attitude, not to mention his failure to see his privilege and blessedness in just being in the presence of the Father. Indeed, many faithful believers would want to examine every expectation they might have for being faithful. Indeed, I might just feel good to know that I am at home and not the wandering prodigal.
At the beginning of chapter 15 of the Gospel according to Luke which places this parable in the middle of the chapter, we read that the Pharisees and the scribes were murmuring: “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them”. Jesus was doing what they would not do, what they considered inappropriate for their class.
Those murmuring were essentially saying, there are those who belong and those who do not belong. Jesus’ response, in this parable and the others in chapter 15, is to show the value of every individual, regardless of their circumstances. Each individual is invaluable in the sight of the Father.
I would therefore look at this parable by asking myself: How do I relate to those who do not belong? How do I relate to the outsiders, those outside my social group? Even more specifically, how do I treat them?
Some weeks ago someone called on the telephone and said he wanted to make a donation to an organization that cares for the poor. He clarified further that he wanted to help poor Americans not immigrants because he believed it was wrong to give away what was deservedly Americans’ to undeserving immigrants.
My question during this Lent Season is: How do I respond to those outside my social group?