Today’s Gospel reading is Jesus’ parable of the Lost, or Prodigal Son. I remember the first time I preached on this parable. It was during Lent in 1993, when I took time off from theological studies and got some ministry experience at St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat Center in Detroit, where I am now. The insight I received then still stays with me.
For me, the parable is about freedom. The younger son in the parable thinks that money can get him the freedom he wants, so he asks his father for the share of the inheritance coming to him, and leaves home, seemingly free to do what he wants. But he wastes the money, and when it runs out, he is reduced to feeding pigs! He realizes that at least he could be fed if he goes back home as a servant of his father. But his father, out of joy at seeing his son come back, throws a party.
The older son sees the party going on, and gets angry. He was the good one. He never disobeyed his father’s wishes, and he tells his father that a party was never thrown for him! He is not free at all, because he thought he had to earn his father’s love. The father tries to tell him that he was always loved. The parable doesn’t tell us whether the older son is convinced or not.
The only one in the parable who is free is the father. He doesn’t hold on to his money, and he doesn’t hold any resentments. He doesn’t demand retribution from his younger son, nor blind obedience from his older one. He loves both his sons. That is how God is with us! And if we are to be truly free, that is how we are to be with each other! We are called to be free to love as God loves us – free of greed, free of resentment. Knowing we have been freed from slavery to sin in Jesus Christ, we are free to be extravagant in our love towards God and the rest of the world.
In fact, we could say that we are called to help set others free. For those who are convinced they are totally alone, we can help set them free! For those who believe they are unloved and unlovable, we can help set them free! For those who are oppressed and held captive by poverty and prejudice and injustice, we can help set them free! How? Listen to what the father in the parable says to his older son while pleading with him outside the party for the son who was lost: “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.”
Can we believe that God could be saying that to us? It is true that we are not God, but we could also say that God has given us everything God has. We have been given grace in abundance. We have been given the Word. We’ve been given the Son, whose Body and Blood was poured out for us! And we’ve been given the power of the Spirit! And so much more! Has God really held anything back when it comes to us?
Let God in, ever deeper, into your heart and mind and soul. Let God set you free to love as He does! And may we be, as we hear in our second reading from 2 Corinthians, “ambassadors for Christ,” and work together to set others free.
Fr. Phil, CP