I was born 68 years ago, and a few days after I took my first breaths, I was baptized as a Christian into the Roman Catholic Church. So, for 68 years, I have been listening to the story of the Prodigal Son. Even non-Christians know the story Jesus told his disciples.
A man had two sons. It seems one was a ne’er do well. He was tired of working his butt off on his dad’s farm, and had what he thought was a better idea. He asked his dad to give him his inheritance right then and there instead of making him wait until his death. Likely pretty frustrated and disappointed, the dad gave the son the money and watched him head out into the distance.
The son lived the good life for a several years, spending the money on food and wild women. Finally, however, it was all gone, and he was flat broke. So broke, in fact, that he went to work feeding pigs. About as menial a job as you can get when you’re a Jewish boy. At some point, a lightbulb went on in his head. He decided he would return to his father’s farm and beg his forgiveness.
His father saw his prodigal son from afar, and was thrilled. He ran to greet him. Jesus told his disciples that the son told his father, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.”
Not only did the father forgive his son, but he threw a big shindig celebration. When the older son — the one who didn’t fritter away his money and worked his butt off on the farm — saw the celebration, he was annoyed, and told his father how unfair it seemed to him. “What am I, chopped liver?” he probably said, being Jewish and all.
Again, Jesus told his disciples that the father responded, “Your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”
Of course, the moral to the story is that as long as we are truly sorry for our transgressions, God, like the father of the prodigal son, will never turn away from us. But I will tell you that for 67 years, that story has gotten on my last nerve. I couldn’t help but side with the older son. The son who felt entirely disrespected.
But as I listened to that story at Mass on Sunday, I suddenly had an epiphany. Of course the father welcomed his younger ne’re do well son back with open arms. As a mother of a son, and the grandmother of nine, I would do exactly the same thing. If any one of those loved ones of mine had gone astray — maybe becoming addicted to drugs or living a disreputable life — I, too, would welcome them back with open arms. I have always told all of them that there is nothing they could do that would make me stop loving them. I might not approve of a choice they make, but I would always love them.
I guess the fact that a story from the Bible can land on me so differently than it has in the past proves that the Bible is, as St. Paul said, “living and active. ….. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”