If you’re a sinner like me, you’ve got to love the parable of the Prodigal Son. In the story, Jesus reveals to us the depth and eagerness of God’s merciful love for us. St. Luke is the only source that we have for this story, a parable Jesus told to some Pharisees and His disciples. It’s the last in a series of these stories including the Parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. Each is meant to illustrate the love and mercy God wants to give us and to show how much He values us. They tell us we are His family, and for Jesus’ audience, it was a revolutionary idea to imagine God Almighty as our Father.
The parable describes a father and his two sons. The younger son is tired of life on the farm and tells his father that he wants his share of his inheritance now, so that he can get out of what he sees as a pretty boring life. It’s as if he says to his father, “I can’t wait for you to die, so give me my share now.” Ouch. At that time, the firstborn son would have received 2/3 of the estate and the younger son the remaining third. The father gives him his share and the prodigal son heads out for a distant, I.e. pagan country. “Prodigal” means “wastefully extravagant” and that’s how he goes about living his new life. He spends his fortune on wild living and, of course, he’s soon broke. On top of that, a famine strikes his new land and he’s forced to take work as a swineherd for a pagan master. This would have been absolutely awful work for a Jew. But he’s desperate. He’s so hungry that he wants to eat the slop he’s feeding to the pigs. That’s when he realizes what a mess he’s made of his life. He decides to return home to his father and beg his forgiveness. He doesn’t expect to be treated as a son anymore, but will be grateful just to be a hired hand. So he heads home.
And then we’re told something that, for me, reveals the face and the heart of our Heavenly Father. Jesus says that “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”(Luke 15:21). What a wonderful image of the Lord, Who waits for us, looks for us, and hopes for us to return to Him. Even when we are far away from Him, living a sinful life, degrading our humanity and squandering our inheritance as one of His children—He still desperately wants us to come home to Him. This parable gives me so much comfort. There was a time in my life in which I felt that God was very far away from me. Like the prodigal son, I had followed my own desires, which led me into darkness and despair. God was steadfast and faithful, placing people and situations in my life to help me see how I kept messing up. Finally I realized that I needed to repent and return to Him. “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare and here I am staring 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”(Luke 15:17-20). That was me. And that is still me each time that I am convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit and return to the Sacrament of Confession. God is always there, waiting for me, anxious to embrace my contrite heart and welcome me home.
Lent is a season of repentance and reconciliation. It’s a time to prayerfully reflect on God’s presence and to allow Him to draw us home. No sin is too great for His mercy. No time away is too long, for we are not His hired hands, but His beloved children. He’s waiting for you. A great celebration has been planned—just for you. Come home.
“God is waiting for us, like the father in the parable, with open arms, even though we don’t deserve it, no matter how great our debt is.”
—–St. Josemaria Escriva