This week’s Gospel, often referred to as the Lost Son or the Prodigal Son, is one of three parables to be found in Luke 15. Facing criticism from the self-righteous Pharisees and Scribes, Jesus tells these three parables to challenge their understanding of the observance of the law.
The first parable is the story of the Lost Sheep, next the Lost Coins and third, the Lost Son. They are profound yet simple stories of beauty, compassion and outreach and have been described by some commentators as ‘the heart of the Gospel’. They were certainly well known parables in my younger days but increasingly seem to be unknown to many today.
In his Gospel Luke gathers these three parables together to celebrate the unconditional love of God for all creation. Today’s Gospel tells the story of two sons and a father who loses them both. The younger son leaves home with his inheritance and is lost in a foreign country, while the older son is lost in his own self-righteousness. The younger one leaves home with big expectations and his search for happiness, only to be disappointed and dispirited; the older brother lacks compassion and is hostile to the return of his younger brother, whom his father welcomes with open arms on his return to the family home.
The parable is not first and foremost about the lost son. Rather it is about the father’s unconditional love for his sons. We can feel the righteous indignation of the older son, who has done the right thing, as we say, when he hears that the celebration for the returning son is to be a great family event. His brother is to be welcomed back wholeheartedly, without any repercussions. The father realises the hurt of the older son and extends the hand of friendship and rejoicing to him.
The parable is a reminder to us that God is always to be found among the hurting, the outcast and the lonely. When we lose our way, he is there to welcome us on our return.