Parable of the Prodigal Father:
A Reflection on Luke 15: 11-32
by the Reverend Noel E. Bordador
“This child of mine was dead, and is alive; this child of mine was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:24)
Let me begin with a personal story. Earlier this year, I visited my family who live across the globe. One of the reasons for my visit has something to do with my youngest sixteen-year old sister. For a long time, my father has been almost begging me to come and help him look for my runaway sister. A combination of adolescent rebellion, bad company, drugs, among other things, were the cause of this. Yes, it happens to a good Christian family, too. My father and I found her living in her squalor. The feeling that my father and I had over this reunion was and is indescribable, to say the least. I now know what that father in the Gospel story in Luke 15:11-32 meant when he said, “This child of mine was dead, and is alive; this child of mine was lost and is found.” Later, I asked my father whether he was also angry with my sister for the pain she might have caused the family. My father said to me, “Yes, but what she does not need right now is judgment or my condemnation. My judgment might only destroy her. Only love and compassion will keep the door open for her to come back when and if she decides to come back. I believe that only love might be able to save her.”
Luke 15:11-32 has often been called the story, the parable of the prodigal son. However, we should call it the story of the prodigal father. Because if the son is prodigal, wasting his life, squandering his family’s love, surpassing him is the prodigality of his father’s mercy and love. In this story, Jesus allows us a glimpse, allows us to penetrate deep into the heart, into the very nature of God: God our Father is prodigal with his compassion and love towards us. The late anarchist Christian, Dorothy Day, calls it “holy waste.”
About seven hundred years ago, a German mystic by the name of Meister Eckhart, once said, “Nobody at anytime is cut off from God.” And then he also said, “It is just impossible to lose God.” But somehow, sometime, somewhere in life, we have forgotten this. We have placed limits on the love of God. We often think and feel that if we do certain things we can win God’s love, and if we do some things, we can lose that love, that we will be cut off from him. But God’s love is always there for us, says Meister Eckhart. We cannot buy his love, and we do not have to win God’s love by what we do and accomplish. This does not mean we do what we simply want to do, or do nothing in the face of evil and injustice. But it is one thing to do good things because we have been possessed by God, and another to attempt to buy God’s love. Look at the story. The father forgave and loved his prodigal son even before the son asked his father’s forgiveness. The love and forgiveness were always there. The prodigal father did not ask his son to apologize or to prove himself again trustworthy so as to earn his father’s love. No, the father’s love was simply a given. Love was a constant, abiding, and unchangeable reality. And so is God’s love.
This may be hard for us to believe especially as we live in a society that often seems to measure human worth by one’s buying power, and achievements. But in this highly consumer and achievement oriented society, the Good News is that God’s love is not one more product that can be bought, and God’s love is not one more trophy to win. God’s love is always given gratis to all, whatever you do, whoever you are… and that love cannot be lost. As Meister Eckhart said, “Whether you go away or return, God never leaves you. God is always present.” I think what Meister Eckhart reflects what is at the heart of the Christian tradition I belong to, at the heart of Anglican spirituality. In the baptismal rite of the 1979 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, there is a radical statement that says, “The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble.” Anglican Christianity believes that even if people try to dissolve this relationship and run away from God, the relationship which God establishes with us remains indissoluble, indestructible, and irrevocable only and simply because God is faithful, everlastingly committed to us.
But we have often worshiped a different god- a god whose love we can buy, a god we can bargain with, a god whose exacting justice surpasses his compassion. We have become accustomed to an idea of a god who can be vengeful, a god who demands justice “proportional” to the sin and offense, a god who can banish people to hell, and a god who can approve of the destruction of life for justice sake. And so in the name of God we exclude people from our churches. In the Name of God’s justice we can sanctify war, or justify the death penalty. But what the Gospel story shows is that God’s justice is not vengeful but merciful, not proportional but prodigal in mercy, not seeking to destroy life but seeking to transform it. We often see a contradiction, a polarity between God’s justice, and God’s mercy. But in truth, God’s justice has been and is always his grace towards us. Almost two thousand years ago, the church father, Irenaeus of Lyons, once wrote, “Visio Dei vita hominis.” “Human life has been and is always God’s vision.” And because this is so, God’s justice does not seek to eradicate life. This is the Good News that impels us to practice this prodigality of mercy, and compassion, to practice God’s justice (and not our own brand of justice) in our own personal life as well as in our public life- in the economic, and political life of our society.
© 2004 Noel E. Bordador
Noel E. Bordador is a queer Filipino Episcopal (Anglican) priest in the Diocese of New York.
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