Saint Ignatius High School

Father and Sons

How are we to interpret the parable of the Prodigal Son? Do we view it from the eyes of the foolish, younger son, or the older son who remained loyal to the father in the story? Does the father's message really change? Mr. Healey unpacks this seminal story in this weekend's Lesson from Loyola Hall.

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading: Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19

Second Reading: St. Paul’s 1st Letter to Timothy 1:12-17

Gospel: According to St. Luke 15:1-32

‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.’

Of all of the parables told by our Lord, two rise above the rest in the minds of His followers: the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  This Sunday’s gospel reading concludes with the latter parable, and it reminds us that our souls are to be imbued with the same mercy that comes from God.

This parable is usually seen from the eyes of the younger brother in us all.  We act selfishly, it comes back to bite us, and we run home in the hope of being forgiven and taken back.  Hearing this parable at Mass gives us the warm fuzzies that are the effect of being told that no matter what we do, God will have mercy on us – with the caveat that all we need to do is humbly admit our guilt.

This would be the reason that, despite our familiarity with the story, we might look at the above out of context quote and assume that the father in the parable is talking to his prodigal son and telling him that all will be well.  Actually, the father is talking to the older son, the one who did not run away and blow his inheritance on wine, women, and song.

That older brother has a real chip on his shoulder, and feels that he is being ignored in favor of his squeaky-wheel-gets-the-grease brother.  So maybe a bit of time spent with the “good” son will elicit something that can round out a story that almost always centers on the wasteful child.

When I teach this parable in class I always ask to hear from the guys in the room who have younger siblings.  To a man, they will tell us that the babies in the family are allowed to get away with murder, metaphorically speaking.  Built up resentment? You bet.  Cries of “if I did half of what they do…”  Any older child could fill in the rest.

So what is Jesus telling us about the older son?  The same thing that He is telling us about the non-lost sheep and the coins still in the purse.  The father’s response to the older son was: If you were the one who had been lost, then I would have done whatever it took in order to get you back.  It is not favoritism to seek what is lost, nor is it unfair to focus one’s full concern on the son who is in trouble.  Imagine the absurdity of a child complaining that his parents are way too focused on the sibling who was just rushed to the hospital, even if it is because of something self-inflicted.

As serious as physical emergencies are, they are nothing compared to those of the soul.  Think how relieved a parent is when a life-threatening physical issue is in the rear view mirror.  That relief pales when seen in the light of how our Father feels when we come home after having been spiritually lost.  No matter which sibling we are.