From: Luke 15:1-3; 11-32
Parables of God’s Mercy
The Prodigal Son
 “Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the
house, he heard music and dancing.  And he called one of the servants and
asked what this meant.  And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and
your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and
sound.’  But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and
entreated him,  but he answered his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have
served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid,
that I might make merry with my friends.  But when this son of yours came,
who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!’ 
And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.
 It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and
is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”
1-32. Jesus’ actions manifest God’s mercy: He receives sinners in order to con-
vert them. The scribes and Pharisees, who despised sinners, just cannot under-
stand why Jesus acts like this; they grumble about Him; and Jesus uses the
opportunity to tell these Mercy parables. “The Gospel writer who particularly
treats of these themes in Christ’s teaching is Luke, whose Gospel has earned
the title of ‘the Gospel of mercy’” (Bl. John Paul II, “Dives In Misericordia”, 3).
In this chapter St. Luke reports three of these parables in which Jesus describes
the infinite, fatherly mercy of God and His joy at the conversion of the sinner.
The Gospel teaches that no one is excluded from forgiveness and that sinners
can become beloved children of God if they repent and are converted. So much
does God desire the conversion of sinners that each of these parables ends with
a refrain, as it were, telling of the great joy in Heaven over a sinner who repents.
1-2. This is not the first time that publicans and sinners approach Jesus (cf. Mat-
thew 9:10). They are attracted by the directness of the Lord’s preaching and by
His call to self-giving and love. The Pharisees in general were jealous of His in-
fluence over the people (cf. Matthew 26:2-5; John 11:47), a jealousy which can
also beset Christians; a severity of outlook which does not accept that, no mat-
ter how great his sins may have been, a sinner can change and become a saint;
a blindness which prevents a person from recognizing and rejoicing over the good
done by others. Our Lord criticized this attitude when He replied to His disciples’
complaints about others casting out devils in His name: “Do not forbid him; for
no one who does a mighty work in My name will be able soon after to speak evil
of Me” (Mark 9:39). And St. Paul rejoiced that others proclaimed Christ and even
overlooked the fact they did so out of self-interest, provided Christ was preached
(cf. Philippians 1:17-18).
11. This is one of Jesus’ most beautiful parables, which teaches us once more
that God is a kind and understanding Father (cf. Matthew 6:8; Romans 8:15; 2
Corinthians 1:3). The son who asks for his part of the inheritance is a symbol of
the person who cuts himself off from God through sin. “Although the word ‘mer-
cy’ does not appear, this parable nevertheless expresses the essence of the di-
vine mercy in a particularly clear way” (Bl. John Paul II, “Dives In Misericordia”,
12. “That son, who receives from the father the portion of the inheritance that is
due him and leaves home to squander it in a far country ‘in loose living’, in a cer-
tain sense is the man of every period, beginning with the one who was the first
to lose the inheritance of grace and original justice. The analogy at this point is
very wide-ranging. The parable indirectly touches upon every breach of the cove-
nant of love, every loss of grace, every sin” (”Dives In Misericordia”, 5).
14-15. At this point in the parable we are shown the unhappy effects of sin. The
young man’s hunger evokes the anxiety and emptiness a person feels when he
is far from God. The prodigal son’s predicament describes the enslavement which
sin involves (cf. Romans 1:25; 6:6; Galatians 5:1): by sinning one loses the free-
dom of the children of God (cf. Romans 8:21; Galatians 4:31; 5:13) and hands
oneself over the power of Satan.
17-21. His memory of home and his conviction that his father loves him cause
the prodigal son to reflect and to decide to set out on the right road. “Human life
is in some way a constant returning to our Father’s house. We return through
contrition, through the conversion of heart which means a desire to change, a
firm decision to improve our life and which, therefore, is expressed in sacrifice
and self-giving. We return to our Father’s house by means of that sacrament of
pardon in which, by confessing our sins, we put on Jesus Christ again and be-
come His brothers, members of God’s family” (St. J. Escriva, “Christ is Passing
20-24. God always hopes for the return of the sinner; He wants him to repent.
When the young man arrives home his father does not greet him with reproaches
but with immense compassion, which causes him to embrace his son and cover
him with kisses.
20. “There is no doubt that in this simple but penetrating analogy the figure of the
father reveals to us God as Father. The conduct of the father in the parable and
his whole behavior, which manifests his internal attitude, enables us to rediscover
the individual threads of the Old Testament vision of mercy in a synthesis which
is totally new, full of simplicity and depth. The father of the prodigal son is faithful
to this fatherhood, faithful to the love that he had always lavished on his son. This
fidelity is expressed in the parable not only by his immediate readiness to wel-
come him home when he returns after having squandered his inheritance; it is ex-
pressed even more fully by that joy, that merrymaking for the squanderer after his
return, merrymaking which is so generous that it provokes the opposition and ha-
tred of the elder brother, who had never gone far away from his father and had ne-
ver abandoned the home.
“The father’s fidelity to himself [...] is at the same time expressed in a manner
particularly charged with affection. We read, in fact, that when the father saw
the prodigal son returning home ‘he had compassion, ran to meet him, threw his
arms around his neck and kissed him.’ He certainly does this under the influence
of a deep affection, and this also explains his generosity towards his son, that
generosity which so angers the elder son” (”Dives In Misericordia”, 6).
“When God runs towards us, we cannot keep silent, but with St. Paul we ex-
claim, “Abba Pater”: ‘Father, my Father!’ (Romans 8:15), for, though He is the
creator of the universe, He doesn’t mind our not using high-sounding titles, nor
worry about our not acknowledging His greatness. He wants us to call Him
Father; He wants us to savor that word, our souls filling with joy [...].
“God is waiting for us, like the father in the parable, with open arms, even though
we don’t deserve it. It doesn’t matter how great our debt is. Just like the prodigal
son, all we have to do is open our heart, to be homesick for our Father’s house,
to wonder at and rejoice in the gift which God makes us of being able to call our-
selves His children, of really being His children, even though our response to Him
has been so poor” (St. J. Escriva, “Christ Is Passing By”, 64).
25-30. God’s mercy is so great that man cannot grasp it: as we can see in the
case of the elder son, who thinks his father loves the younger son excessively,
his jealousy prevents him from understanding how his father can do so much to
celebrate the recovery of the prodigal; it cuts him off from the joy that the whole
family feels. “It’s true that he was a sinner. But don’t pass so final a judgment
on him. Have pity in your heart, and don’t forget that he may yet be an Augus-
tine, while you remain just another mediocrity” (St. J. Escriva, “The Way”, 675).
We should also consider that if God has compassion towards sinners, He must
have much much more towards those who strive to be faithful to Him. St. The-
rese of Lisieux understood this very well: “What joy to remember that our Lord
is just; that He makes allowances for all our shortcomings, and knows full well
how weak we are. What have I to fear then? Surely the God of infinite justice
who pardons the prodigal son with such mercy will be just with me ‘who am al-
ways with Him’?” (”The Story of a Soul”, Chapter 8).
32. “Mercy, as Christ has presented it in the parable of the prodigal son, has the
interior form of the love that in the New Testament is called AGAPE. This love is
able to reach down to every prodigal son, to every human misery, and above all
to every form of moral misery, to sin. When this happens, the person who is the
object of mercy does not feel humiliated, but rather found again and ‘restored to
value’. The father first and foremost expresses to him his joy, that he has been
‘found again’ and that he has ‘returned to life’. This joy indicates a good that has
remained intact: even if he is a prodigal, a son does not cease to be truly his fa-
ther’s son; it also indicates a good that has been found again, which in the case
of the prodigal son was his return to the truth about himself” (”Dives In Misericor-
Source: “The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries”. Biblical text from the
Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries by members of
the Faculty of Theology, University of Navarre, Spain.
Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland, and
by Scepter Publishers in the United States.
|First reading||Joshua 5:9-12 ©|
|Psalm||Psalm 33:2-7 ©|
|Second reading||2 Corinthians 5:17-21 ©|
|Gospel||Luke 15:1-3,11-32 ©|