But, what does the father say? He says, “My children, I love you all dearly and everything I have will be yours someday. But we have to celebrate and be glad, don’t you see? Your brother, my sons, and your father, my grandchildren, was dead to us. But he is alive again. He was lost to us, but now he is found.”
I know you can’t read the words that comprise this piece of art. They are from the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 15 verses 11 through 32. My dear wife bought it for me years ago when one of our three sons was lost to us for a time, and then returned. In case you don’t recognize the passage, it is the parable of the prodigal son. Jesus told it ages ago to people gathered around to hear his teachings. These people included tax collectors and sinners. But the Pharisees and other rabbis were there too, listening but not hearing.
“There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Imagine, if you will, this modern-day equivalent to the parable.
A man has three sons, one by a previous marriage, the oldest. For personal reasons having had nothing to do with anything done to him by his father, his step-mother or brothers, decided to alienate himself from them and from his very own children as well. He did so for the sake of a new relationship, a new wife. For five long years his family heard nothing from him, save for Christmas cards sent cruelly and disingenuously by his new wife, a jealous and controlling woman. Time passed; hearts grew bitter and resentful. Then, one day, after the son’s new marriage relationship had hit a breaking point, the son reached out to his father, saying that he is sorry and asking for forgiveness.
What did the father do? He did exactly what the prodigal son’s father did. He enthusiastically raced out with open arms to welcome him back.
But the son’s brothers aren’t so anxious to have the elder son back. Neither are the son’s children. They are still hurt. They are angry, and who can blame them? “Don’t trust him,” they say to their father and grandfather. “Consider all that he has done to us, the lies that he has told. He is a drunkard, a thief and a liar. He abandoned us when we most needed him. He must first atone for his behavior.”
But, what does the father say? He says, “My children, I love you dearly, all of you, and everything I have will be yours someday. But we have to celebrate and be glad, don’t you see? Your brother, my sons, and your father, my grandchildren, was dead to us. But he is alive again. He was lost to us, but now he is found.”
In the parable as told by Jesus, the father represents God, of course – God who loves us all despite our sins. He longs for us to turn away from sin and to come home. But who is the eldest son? Why, he is us, we who are Judgmental and unforgiving – we who would punish the repentant sinner until… until when?
Please feel free to post a comment if you wish.