The parable of the prodigal son is one of Jesus’ best known parables. It appears only once in the Gospels, in Luke 15: 11-32. In that chapter Jesus explained three parables: that of the lost sheep, that of the lost coin and that of the prodigal son. In the first two verses we see the situation in which Jesus was.
Many tax collectors and sinners approached Jesus to hear him, so the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to murmur: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
(Luke 15: 1-2)
The purpose of the parables
Jesus often taught with parables. He narrated a common situation to give a moral teaching and here he seizes the opportunity. The Pharisees and teachers of the law did not understand why Jesus dedicated time to people who did not have a good reputation. Jesus answers them with these parables that have the theme of recovering something lost: a sheep, a coin or a son. Jesus wants to make it clear that for him, for God, we are all valuable. He also talks about the importance of repentance and the joy it brings to the heart of God something we see in the last verse of the parable of the lost sheep.
I tell you that this is also true in heaven: there will be more joy for a single sinner who repents than for ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to repent.
(Luke 15: 7)
The end of the parable of the lost coin expresses the same feeling.
I tell you that God also rejoices with his angels for a sinner who repents.
The son’s request to the father
That is the context of this parable so famous. The word prodigal refers to someone who spends what he has on useless things. To begin, Jesus introduces the main characters and the matter. “A man had two children. The youngest of them told his father: “Dad, give me what I have to do with the inheritance.” So the father divided his goods between the two. This request was somewhat offensive because it is as if the youngest son had told his dad that, as it took him to die and he wanted to enjoy life, he preferred that his inheritance be advanced in order to leave and start living in his own way.
The father agreed, distributed the inheritance, and the youngest son went to a distant country where he wasted money in unbridled pleasures. He ran out of nothing and began to need so he had to look for a job. But the country where he lived was in economic trouble and it was not easy to get one. There was only work taking care of pigs, an impure animal for the Jews. The fact that he accepted it reveals his level of despair. I was hungry and even wanted to eat the pigs’ food. Such was his situation!
He recalled that in his house the day laborers who worked for his father lived better than him and decided to return. He rehearsed a mini speech with which he would try to convince his father to give him a job. He knew that the offense against his father had been enormous and he no longer aspired to be treated as a son. However, his father’s love was very great. The same father who let him go without recriminating received him without questions or censorship.
He was still far away when his father saw him and felt sorry for him; He ran to meet her, hugged him and kissed him. The young man said: “Dad, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son. ”
(Luke 15: 20-21)
What a moving scene! The father runs out to receive his son, hugs him and kisses him. Do not wait inside the house or treat your child coldly. Nor does he tell him to go for a bath and change his clothes before greeting him, but he receives it, expresses his love and acceptance as he was. He does not even let the son finish the short speech he had practiced but rather interrupts him and orders his servants:
Soon! Bring the best clothes to wear. Also put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattest calf and kill him to celebrate a feast. Because this son of mine was dead, but now he has come back to life; It was lost, but we have already found it. ” So they started to party.
(Luke 15: 21-24)
The joy of the father for the return
The parable does not end there. The eldest son returns from work in the field and realizes that there is a party. He asks one of the servants what happens and he tells him that his brother had returned and the father had organized a celebration. The eldest son got angry. He could not understand how the father made that party in honor of his wasteful and foolish brother, while he, who had remained working the lands by his side, had never given him a kid to celebrate with his friends.
The father leaves the party to ask his eldest son to come in, but he doesn’t want to. The father tries to reassure him, explains that everything he has has always been at his disposal, but that it was important to celebrate the arrival of the brother «because this brother of yours was dead, but now he has come back to life; It was lost, but we have already found it ”(v. 32). The father understands the reaction of his eldest son but does not allow him to tarnish the joy he feels for the return of his other son.
So strong is the joy God feels when we come before him repentant. In heaven there is a party every time a sinner repents! God is a loving father who waits patiently for us to realize our mistakes and recognize that we need him in our lives. He awaits us with open arms. He receives us, forgives us, restores us as his children and fills our lives with his forgiveness and his love.