Saturday, March 13, 2010

On the Prodigal Son

The Return of the Prodigal Son
Bartolome Esteban Murillo

Amidst the gravity of Lent, the Church today is in a celebration mood. This day is called Laetare Sunday (the day of rejoicing) because we are halfway through the heavy discipline of Lent and Holy Week is almost here. Soon, it will be Easter. Thus, the Prodigal Son must be read in the light of this celebrative mood of the Church.

The parable shows us two celebrations, each in opposition with the other. The first is the one we are familiar with – the celebration of the younger son who, after having received his inheritance, left his father’s house, went so far away as possible, and squandered his inheritance on dissipate living. He really had the time of his life: too much money to spend and with as much independence as he wanted. He was far from his father’s control. Such is the kind of life which most of us yearn: one that is characterized by fun to our hearts’ content; far from the control of any authority or law. This is the typical American spring-break type of celebration: parties with lots of booze and sex. However, it is a type of celebration that leaves you empty: both in the pocket and in meaning. At the end, when all money was spent, and fair weather friends have left for home, the younger son found himself poor, hungry, and terribly humiliated.

It was in the middle of his misery that this son realized that he needed not to leave his father’s house in order to joy and happiness. Now that he lost everything, he began to see what he had always taken for granted: that in his father’s house was a celebration that did not end – even the hired workers had always more than enough to eat. Everyone was well provided for. Had he not abandoned his father, he would not have gone hungry, miserable and humiliated. This is the celebration where joy is genuine and lasting.

The parable of the prodigal son unmasks for us the deception of Satan who does to us what he did to Jesus: he brings us to the top of the mountain of temptation and shows and promises to us the possession of kingdoms of passing glory in exchange for our worship and loyalty. As he did with the prodigal son, he entices us to leave our Father’s house and find entertainment in dissolute living. The parable unmasks Satan as a fair-weather friend who, after enticing us to give up our heavenly inheritance, abandons us to misery, emptiness, and humiliation. He did that once to Adam and Eve. The serpent pretended to be Eve’s friend and reliable counselor. Once he succeeded to make the couple eat the forbidden fruit, he abandoned them to poverty (he left them naked) and humiliation (the couple were so embarrassed that they hid themselves in the bushes). He will definitely do it again to anyone who would commit the mistake of listening to him.

On the other hand, the same parable reveals to us that genuine and lasting joy can be obtained only if we heed the Father who, on the top of the mountain of the transfiguration, allows us to enter into the shining cloud and bids us to listen well to Jesus his beloved Son who transforms us into a new creation, delivers us from the passing glory of old things, and bestows upon us the newness of his grace and salvation. “And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ,” said St. Paul. Only He removes the reproach of the enemy from us.

On account of this, let us come to our senses. Look honestly at the depth of misery and poverty which we have brought upon ourselves when we abandoned the Father’s house. There is no genuine joy apart from Him. There is no lasting joy without Him. Let us rise and go back to the Father’s house where even his servants have more than enough to eat. Let us say to him, “Father, I have sinned against you.” He shall embrace us and restore to us the dignity which the devil, in his envy, has stolen from us. This He does by handing over to death not the fatted calf but His only begotten Son, Jesus, who, “for our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.”

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