Reflection on the Word
Sunday, March 10, 2013
Many of us probably relate to the familiar parable of The Prodigal Son, told to the scribes and Pharisees by Jesus in today’s gospel reading. In particular, perhaps because of the commonly-used title of the parable, we are familiar with the connection to the younger son who took his inheritance, left his family for self-indulgent pursuits, only to be welcomed back into his father’s house to resume the position he once held as the privileged youngest son of a wealthy family.
For me, one of the clearest messages of this parable is this: Just as the father in the parable welcomes home his prodigal son without judgment, God loves each of us unconditionally, regardless of how far we stray in our relationship with him. God loves us perfectly, not as a reward for our good behaviour, or even in spite of our bad behaviour. God’s love is unchanging. There is no cosmic scale balancing God’s love with our performance as human beings. We are loved. Period.
While this is incredibly good news to the ear and for the heart, it does raise the question, why bother to be “good” or follow the Commandments? Why pray, fast, or be charitable, as we are encouraged to do? In part, I think the answer is because these disciplines help teach us what it means to live a spiritual life. They help to remind us who we are and what we are meant to be to one another. In his own reflection on the parable of the Prodigal Son, Fr. Ron Rolheiser wrote “Trying to be good should still not be an attempt to somehow earn love or heaven, but rather an acknowledgement, a humble one, that one still needs a lot of help in knowing how to live in the face of love.”
As humans, this idea of a perfect, unconditional love can be challenging to understand, and the elder son from The Prodigal Son represents that part of us wanting to understand God’s love as being measured out according to what we have done to deserve it. In every other aspect of our lives, we learn that we “reap what we sow”, so when the elder son complained to his father that his younger brother had not earned the grand homecoming given to him, it is easy to understand his irritation at what appears to be an injustice.
In Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son, he writes of a time when he began to understand that regardless of which of the sons he identified with more closely, the parable of the Prodigal Son extended an invitation to him to become like the father in the story. Perhaps reflecting this unconditional love to others is the best response to God’s perfect, unchanging, love for us.
-Trevor Droesbeck, Office of Youth Faith Development for the Archdiocese of Moncton