This coming Sunday marks the fourth Sunday in Lent (Year C; but if you are attending a Mass at which one of the RCIA scrutinies is celebrating, you will hear readings other readings).You can read a complete commentary on this gospel here.
The traditional title of the parable focuses on the younger son who left home, the so-called prodigal son. Pause for a moment and ask your self if you know the definition of “prodigal.” Years of leading Bible Studies has revealed that many people think “prodigal” carries the meaning of disrespectful, sinful – after all, didn’t the young man waste all his money on wine, women, and song – at least that is the charge of his older brother. Regardless of how the money – or more to the point – the inheritance was wasted, it is the waste that is key. The word “prodigal” means wasteful, profligate, or reckless.All that being said, if you stop for a moment and ask who is the central character in the parable, it is not the younger son. It is the father who is the central figure. Perhaps a question might be asked is his behavior is wasteful or reckless in the love he shows the younger son who has so disrespected and shamed him. Perhaps a better title might be “The Parable of a Father’s Love.”
The parable, the longest in the Gospels, consists of three main parts: (1) the departure of the younger son to a distant land where he squanders his inheritance (vv.11-19), (2) the homecoming of the son and welcome by his father (vv.20-24), and (3) the episode between the father and the older son who stayed at home (vv.25-32). How this parable differs from the other Luke 15 parables (lost sheep, lost coin) is that what is lost is a human person – one who has existing human relationships with his father and his brother. The younger son’s metanioa is not simply a change of his mind in absence of these relationships. Repentance necessarily involves those relationships.
- Alan Culpepper, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 9 of the New Interpreter’s Bible, ed. Leander E. Keck. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994–2004)
- Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke in The New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997)
- Brian Stoffregen, “Exegetical Notes” at crossmarks.com