Considering all what is said about the parable of the Prodigal Son, in my opinion his most grievous mistake was not asking for his inheritance, wasting his resources, working with the swine, or even being with the harlots but leaving his father’s house and wanting to be his own master. Before we talk about the son and his father and their incredible story of return, acceptance and love, let’s first talk about prodigal living. Prodigal living is wasteful living, not necessarily sinful, but just wasteful, without a purpose, guidance and simply careless, which could include and lead to sinful living. It is a broad spectrum, from the depth of sin to the deceptive careless way of depleting time, energy, and gifts. The Scriptures do not tell us much about the prodigal son’s life away from his father’s house except that it was wasteful and left us to contemplate on this word for our own lives.
For the younger son, prodigal living included working with swine, an unclean animal according to Mosaic law. It was his basic physical needs, passions, and desires that led him out of his father’s house and into work with the swine. For the prodigal son, an unruly life led him to slavery not freedom, losing his liberty as a member of God’s own people. And so, his repentance had to be not only returning to himself but also returning to his father’s house, willingly being under a master. For others, prodigal living might mean something different, but at the end of the day it is far from the father’s house and repentance begins with returning to it.
I recall no where else in the scriptures the emphasis on the sonship and fatherhood relationship more than this parable (NKJV, Luke 15:11-32). The prodigal son being in a far country still referred to his father as “father”, and the father continued to refer to his son as “son”. Despite being with the swine, harlots, and wasting his resources the son never lost his sonship. Same for us, we do not lose our sonship to God because of our sins and actions. This is a beautiful fact of our faith, we do not lose our title and the grace given to us because Christ secures them, “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us” (2 Cor 1:20). We may need washing through repentance, renewal through Eucharist, and growth in prayers but we do not lose our sonship.
As for our gracious father in the parable, he comes out running, embracing, and kissing his son, forgiving, and forgetting all that he had done. We ask and wonder, he hugs him in all his filth? Yes! He hugs him in his smell? Yes! He forgives him based only on his return? Yes! He hugs him before he even spoke or confessed?! Yes! He knew his son will confess, and he knew what he will say. He does not only forgive him but he restores him, dresses him, and offers a sacrifice on his behalf, all out of love. This gracious father accepts one’s return and pleads with the other to be merciful and understanding to his brother.
God is always waiting for us to return “I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people” Is 65:2, He is not waiting passively but always speaking to us, preparing occasions and circumstances for our return until we are faced with the bitterness of our sins and decide to return.
Final thought, repentance is not a feeling, although it might include feelings, but it is soul searching into our motivations, and desires, it is rising from where we are. Repentance is a return to our Father’s house, and it is about inviting the light of Christ to shine into the depth of our darkness.