Homily for 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, Prodigal Son

posted Sep 9, 2016, 11:28 AM by Church Office   [ updated Sep 9, 2016, 11:28 AM by Michelle Massung ]

           The story of the Prodigal Son in Luke’s Gospel is well known and beloved to all of us.  It is a parable told by Jesus to the Pharisees and scribes when they accuse Jesus of eating and socializing with sinners and tax collectors.  It is a story of repentance and mercy as well as a story about conversion.  How do I know?  It is my story of conversion. 

            The story is about two sons, a familiar story line throughout the Bible. The father, representing God, is merciful and kind to his repentant son while still showing his unconditional love.  The story’s main character is the father, and although there are two acts, the father is still the central figure in both acts.  The main point of the text is the father’s mercy and forgiveness, even before the person has fully repented.  Each of the two acts demonstrates the father’s mercy and forgiveness, regardless of the sin committed.  If we know this going into the story, we can be looking for examples of the father’s mercy and forgiveness.  

            Let’s start by looking at the younger son.   He asks his father for his share of the inheritance.  Even if the father could have given the younger son his share of the inheritance, it would have meant selling off a great deal of property, and this would have taken more than a couple of days.  The father takes a great risk in losing his and the family’s honor.  It would have also reduced the overall worth of the whole family, their status in society and would have caused the father and the older son a great deal of heartache as a result of the younger son’s request.  Therefore, the father is acting in a foolhardy way, a way that Jews are taught to avoid in the Old Testament.[1]  

            When the younger son takes the job in the foreign land as a swine feeder, this is the lowest job that a Jewish person could have.  Swine are unclean animals in the eyes of the Jews and to have to feed them is abominable.  Since the younger son went to work for a Gentile, he is now looked upon by others, especially the Jews, as a Gentile. That is why he says that even my father’s slaves are doing better than I am in my current state.  A Jewish father would not have forgiven his now Gentile son.  From a Rabbinic perspective, Israel needs carob, the food fed to the swine by the younger son, to be forced into repentance.

            Regarding the older son, the father is also compassionate.  This son is angry out of jealousy for his younger brother.  His pride prevents him from entering the house to join in the celebration.  The father reaches out to the older son and begs him to come into the house.  Now the older son is in a distant place compared to the rest of the family, and the father wants him to return just as he wanted the younger son to return.  However, we never know if the older son comes to himself and enters the house or stays outside and remains in the distant land, left to his own devices.

            So which of the characters in the story do you most identify with, the younger so, the older son, or the father?  My assessment is that at times we are all three in the way we live our lives.  At times, we want to satisfy our personal desires, without regard to whom we may harm or what damage we cause to our families or friends.  At times, we are more righteous and judgmental in our thoughts and actions and want to limit our love, mercy and forgiveness to others.  And at times, we are able to demonstrate our unconditional love and mercy like the father.  To be like Christ, we need to be more like the father in our everyday lives.  We need to love and forgive others unconditionally.  This is not the easiest of ways to go about our lives.  So how do we start?

            We do so with the understanding that all we have comes from God and we should show our love for God in the way we treat others.  Today in the Untied States, we can live our whole life within the power and possessions of our society.  It is only when we lose everything that we come to our senses and turn to God for help.  But what do we need to lose?  Is it our money, our house, our job?  No, we need to lose the idea that everything comes from our efforts.  We are not in control, God is.  We must realize that all that we have is a gift from God, and that only through His generosity and kindness do we have our family, friends, and possessions.  The price we pay to accumulate so much at the expense of our fellow humans and their needs is to be truly lost and dead.  God will throw us a very BIG party when we come back to life in our generosity to others and come alive in our thanks to Him.  Then we can come to the really BIG party God is throwing for us.[2]


[1] Speaking Parables – David Buttick, Published by Westminster John Knox Press, Page 199


[2] The Third Gospel for the Third World, Volume three, Hendrix, Herman, Page 155