For many people, God is anything but the one who is able to give them joy. To think of God brings up bad memories: from deep within comes the idea of someone threatening or demanding, who turns their life into something boring, uncomfortable and dangerous.
Little by little they have left God out of their lives. Faith has become «repressed» within. At this point they don’t know if they believe or not. They are left without any pathway to God. Some may still recall «the parable of the prodigal son», but they haven’t ever listened to it in their heart.
The true protagonist of this parable is the father. Twice he repeats the same cry of joy: «This son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found». This cry reveals what’s in the father’s heart.
This father isn’t worried about honor, his own interests, nor in the way his sons have treated him. He never uses the language of morality. He only thinks about his son’s life: his son isn’t destroyed, isn’t left dead, doesn’t end up lost without knowing the joy of life.
This story describes to the smallest detail the surprising meeting of the father with his son who had abandoned his home. Even when the son was far off, the father «spotted him» coming hungry and humiliated, and «he was moved» down in his very bowels. This keen sight, full of kindness and compassion, is what saves us. Only God sees us so.
Right away «he rushes over». It’s not the son who comes home. It’s the father who goes out running and who reaches out more passionately than his very son. «He grabbed him by the neck and kept kissing him». God’s always like that: running with open arms toward those who come back.
The son starts his confession: he’s been working on it for a long time in his mind. The father interrupts him to save him more humiliation. He doesn’t impose any punishment, demands no ritual of expiation; he places no condition on welcoming him home. Only God welcomes and protects sinners thus.
The father only thinks about his son’s dignity. He needs to act quickly. He orders them to bring him the best clothes, a son’s ring, and sandals to walk home. There he will be received at a banquet celebrated in his honor. The son has to know, sitting next to his father, the dignity and happiness of the life that he wasn’t able to enjoy while separated from his father.
Whoever hears this parable from the outside won’t understand anything. That person will continue walking through life without God. Whoever hears it from the heart, might weep with joy and gratitude. That one will feel, maybe for the first time, that in the final mystery of life there is Someone who welcomes us and forgives us, because that Someone only wants us to be filled with joy.
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf