Gospel Reading for the Sunday of the Prodigal Son
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Today is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. The adults and older kids here can probably recite the story from memory: Jesus tells a parable about a father and his two sons. Although He doesn’t say this, the father is mean to represent God, and the sons are meant to represent two kinds of people. See if you can figure out which one you are.
In this story, the younger son asks his father for his half of the family fortune, so he can go live somewhere else. This is actually extremely rude and disrespectful. Imagine telling your parents you don’t want to live with them anymore, so you’d like them to give you half their money so you can leave. It’s basically like saying, “You’re dead to me.” Well, in this story, the younger brother does just that, and the father gives his son his portion and lets him go.
Of course, the younger brother wastes all the money and ends up broke, hungry and working for a pig farmer. Finally, the younger brother realizes that he has really messed up. He says, I’ve been so bad, I can’t expect my father to take me back as his son, but maybe he’ll hire me as one of his servants.
Well, the father has been waiting and watching all this time for his son to return, so when the younger brother gets near his father’s home, the father runs to him, hugs him, kisses him, and throws a party for him.
Now, the older brother gets jealous. He was the good brother. He didn’t disrespect his father. He stayed with him and did what he was supposed to do. Why didn’t the father ever throw a party for him? That just didn’t seem fair to the older brother.
The father explains that the older brother shouldn’t be jealous. In fact, he should be happy that his younger brother has returned.
Did you figure out who you are in the story? Sometimes, we can be like the younger brother. We can be bad and turn away from God, and then we can repent, and come back to God, and He will run to meet us. Sometimes, we can be like the older brother. We can get jealous because we try hard to be good, and it seems like God never notices.
There’s another person in this story we can be like though. We can be like the father. We can forgive those who do bad things to us before they even ask. We can look for people who are trying to come to God and run to meet them. We can welcome new people into our church with celebration. We can love everyone equally.
This parable is applicable in so many ways. Originally, Christ was calling out the pharisees for their hypocrisy, because they chastised him for eating with sinners and tax collectors. To me, it seems very applicable for a parish that suffers from insularity. As much as the father in the parable represents Christ, we, as the Church are meant to emulate Christ. Are we running to meet our brothers who were lost? Are we contacting those we haven’t seen in a while? Are we looking for ways to welcome new people into the Church? Or, are we acting like the older brother, trying to keep our inheritance to ourselves and denying our Father’s limitless fortune to others?
On a more frivolous note, it took me until my 40’s before I understood what prodigal meant in the context of this story. I knew that prodigal was related to the word prodigious, which is usually a word we use to mean a high level of production. (A “prodigious author” is one who writes many books.) What was the son in this story producing though?
It turns out that prodigal can also have the sense of someone who spends money with abandon, though we never use it that way anymore, except in connection with this particular Bible passage.
The son’s request for his portion of goods (Gr. ousia , lit. “essence”) indicates man receiving his free will and his rational mind from God. As Adam did in Eden, the younger son uses these possessions to rebel against his father.Orthodox Study Bible: Notes on Luke 15:12—14