Saturday’s Gospel reading, the parable of the lost son from Luke 15:11-32, is probably one of the most famous parables in the Bible. It not only explains Jesus friendship with tax collectors and sinners but powerfully gets across God’s unlimited mercy to sinners.
We probably all know the story: Pharisees complain that Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners, so he tells them this parable – A young man goes off with his inheritance money, witters it all away, ends up working on a farm feeding pigs (and don’t forget he was Jewish!) He hits rock bottom, even to the point of starvation; comes to his senses; goes back repentant to his father; there is great celebration; older brother gets angry because of all the fuss and it ends with those great words : “My son you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice because your brother was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.”
At one level the meaning of this parable is obvious. A message for those who have drifted away from the faith to say you are always welcome home. No matter what you have done, however bad it is there is a place in the Father’s house. “Nothing you confess could make me love you less.”
People often state that this is one of their favourite parables probably because we can identify with the son. His story tells our story. His desire to go out and live life live to the full in a worldly way; the fact that he makes mistakes and then hits rock bottom – many of us have been there. We have to have that feeling of ‘it can’t get any worse’ in order to turn the corner, to come to our senses.
It’s then in the pit of despair that the light can shine. In that desperateness, that loneliness, that powerlessness, we cry out, we pray and from somewhere comes that glimmer of hope, that sense of peace. We go into that ‘cloud of unknowing’ as St John of the Cross describes it and we encounter the ‘dazzling darkness’ as St Gregory of Nyssa writes. And we journey back to the Father’s arms.
But then also in the parable we have the angry brother, doesn’t he just spoil the story. The fact is the Church is not perfect, the reality is that sometimes there is conflict, jealousy, and sometimes the Church can be unwelcoming. But Jesus reminds us not to lose sight of the important thing: ”.. we should celebrate and rejoice because your brother was dead and has come back to life”. It’s about keeping focussed on mission and celebrating with those on their journey back to the Father.
And if you haven’t already done so it reminds us to go to confession. So maybe now read the parable to yourself and ask God to speak to you through his Word. Amen.
- This resource was produced to support the Confession2014 initiative.