heal, joy, kind, Lord, merciful, mercy, parable, pardon, prodigal son, Psalm 103, responsibility, selfishness, The Sophia Center for Spirituality
Today’s gospel is one of the most familiar of the Christian Scriptures. Named the parable of the Prodigal Son it has, over the past few decades, been the subject of much study and deeper interpretation. For instance, one of the more memorable moments for me on the subject was that in conversation about the older son a friend said, “All along the father was thinking that he stayed out of love, but in the end it seemed that his real, deep-down motivation was duty or obligation – which saddened and shocked the father when it became obvious.” That has given me a lot to think about from time to time. More recently I have heard the parable called “The Prodigal Father” and, after considerable confusion, I decided to look up the definition of “prodigal” to try to settle my mind and the interpretation. What I found was two basic definitions.
1. Wasteful, extravagant, spendthrift, reckless, imprudent…
2. Generous, lavish, liberal, unstinting, unsparing…
I find it interesting that the two are closely related and that it is possible that the father’s prodigality with his sons was the basis for the younger son’s action with only a tip of the scales toward selfishness and a lack of a sense of responsibility – or youthful immaturity – that turned the whole thing bad. I think of that as I read Psalm 103 this morning. The refrain sings, “The Lord is kind and merciful” – something that must’ve spurred the son to return to such a father. Continuing the analogy, the verse holds out hope and describes what actually happened when the son came home. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. He pardons all your iniquities and heals all your ills. He redeems your life from destruction, he crowns you with kindness and compassion. The son was ready to throw himself on his father’s good nature, aware that he would at least be treated with a measure of mercy. Clearly, the father’s joy at his return was unexpected. It would be a wonderful thing if we could remember that moment as well as the words of the psalm when we are asking God for forgiveness.
There is one more thing, however, that the psalm teaches and that I was alluding to when I mentioned youthful immaturity and a sense of responsibility. There is an imperative that precedes the listing of the ways in which we are forgiven – something we must remember. We must be willing to recognize God’s goodness to us and not forget God’s faithfulness. God is always there to forgive our imprudent or reckless behavior but a “thank you” is always in order for the generous, lavish “welcome home” that we are given.