I know the parable of the Prodigal Son; I have read and pondered many different interpretations of that familiar story (LK 15:1-31). This morning when I saw it in the day’s readings, however, I found myself asking why Jesus told this story in the first place. The first sentence answered my question. Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus,, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
This sentence makes me smile for the sound of immaturity coming from the very people who were supposed to be leaders in the community and who were obviously thinking that they were the ones on whom Jesus should be showering his attention. More importantly their question makes me wonder how the “in crowd” (Scribes and Pharisees) or Luke, for that matter, knew who the sinners were. I presume they were judging on the rules set down in Torah, but what about the inner laws, the deeper intentions and motivations of the heart? Can we really know these depths of another person unless they, themselves, reveal them to us? What are our own faults and addictions that are known only to ourselves – or perhaps not even to ourselves? Better not to judge what we cannot be sure of – or even what we think we know perfectly well. “The sinners” as well as those outcast tax collectors were most likely drawn to Jesus because of his welcoming demeanor and openness to them. A little humility might have helped the Scribes and Pharisees join the crowd and find the richness therein.