Do you know the story of the Prodigal Son? What a question!
Of course you do. You’ve been hearing it all your life. And that just may be
Most of us are victims of overfamiliarity when it comes to certain
biblical passages. We think we know them so well that when the Sunday Gospel
begins, “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father...,” it
registers in our subconscious as, “Oh, right, that one.” Our busy little
brain moves on to more pressing matters, such as where we’ll go for brunch after
church. On some level, we may follow the words of the well-known tale, but do
we really hear it?
Sometimes (probably not often enough), when I find myself drifting
into that kind of complacent apathy, I try to jar myself back to the moment
by pretending I’ve never heard the reading before, hanging on its every word.
The results can be startling as I often hear something I’m almost sure wasn’t
there in previous readings. With the Prodigal Son parable, I was stopped in
my tracks, not by something that was said, but rather by something that wasn’t.
Change That Title
I wish we’d never hung the Prodigal Son label on this story.
I doubt that Luke would have titled it so because it places the emphasis on
the wrong word.
Neither son is the centerpiece of the story. That distinction belongs
to the father. So, if we must have a title, I’d be much more comfortable
with the Forgiving Father.
Now we can proceed to the gist of the story. I won’t retell the
tale here. We know it almost too well: Scene One, Show Me the Money; Scene Two,
Son Takes Off; Scene Three, Son Strikes Out; Scene Four, Son Prepares to Eat
Now comes Scene Five. As the capricious younger son plods along
the dusty road, rehearsing his speech of repentance, he is probably attempting
to anticipate his father’s reaction, which might range from disappointment to
rage. He’s not looking forward to any of these.
Scene Six: Camera Shifts
Now the scene shifts to the father himself. As you read above,
“His father caught sight of [the son] and was filled with compassion.” I’m struck
forcefully by what is left unsaid. If the father spied the boy on the road from
afar, it can only mean that he’d been standing there day after day, perhaps
year after year—peering into the distance, hoping to see a familiar figure come
When it finally happens, the father doesn’t stand there tapping
his foot, waiting to let fly the words of anger and rejection he’s been saving
up all that time. On the contrary, he runs down the road, nearly bowls the boy
over with embraces and kisses, absolutely refusing to listen to his son’s carefully
As children who are often in the position of returning to our Father
God after running off in all sorts of unproductive directions, what solace we
find in this old parable! Once we’ve figured out that we’ve blown it yet again
and set our weary feet on the road home, we might deserve ranting, raving and
rejection, but our God will run to meet us as we top the distant hill.
Our Father will enfold us in a loving embrace and drown our chagrin
in calls for celebration. Ours is a forgiving Father. Thank God for God!