(Luke 15: 11-24. 24th Sunday)
Many commentators on this parable tried to speculate about who the younger son and the older son where. Different scenarios are often proposed. The older son could have represented the chosen people -the younger son, the Gentiles. Others might see in the parable some resemblance of old family feuds, such as between Cain and Abel, or Isaac and Ishmael. Even in today's heated political climate, some might be tempted to interpret this parable about two opposing political and sociological ideologies! However, the more we reflect on this parable we will come to recognize that Jesus is speaking to us directly, to you and to me.
The younger son we can identify with. It is when we think that the grass is always greener on the other side -- that in order to experience life we have to get away from it all, to enjoy the world. The younger son represents times in our lives when we have been reckless, impulsive with our sights set on unrealistic expectations and without reflection or appreciation for the blessings, gifts and even the securities that we already have, we have often taken for granted.
We can also identify with the older son. He is the one who is loyal, dependable and who carries out his duty. At first glance these seem to be commendable qualities. But then we discover that there is no love or affection in him for his younger brother. He shows himself to be resentful and angry. Even his relationship with his father seems lacking in warmth or affection.
As reckless as the younger son is by leaving the security of his home and family, he still remembers the love of his father. In getting ready to return he makes an examination of conscience which is born, not from a feeling of guilt, but by “coming to his senses”. Finally he can see his life and his relationships as they truly are. In this light he truly knows what he is lacking and in his moment of isolation and darkness, he is resolved to return home and work on his relationship with his father which he has in the past taken so much for granted.
Of course, this is a parable about you and me and our relationship with God, our heavenly Father. It tells our story of all the times we have been foolish and turned our back on the God who loves us. It demonstrates that we have so often sought the things of this world as a type of food to nourish our soul instead of the things of heaven. And even from the perspective of the older brother, we must reflect on how often we have hid behind the walls of duty and self-righteousness as a way to excuse arrogance, anger and pride.
Whether we identify with the younger son or the older son or both, what unites us is our common Father. Remarkably he welcomes back to one who wasted the gifts he was given. He also pleads for reconciliation between the siblings. But most importantly this loving father gives both his children the opportunity to join in a feast, a banquet in which the fattened calf, which represents Christ himself, has been sacrificed as the true food which alone can provide the people of God the true source of reconciliation and family unity.
We are not told if the two brothers ever reconciled, embraced and celebrated together the banquet meal prepared for them by their father. How the story will ultimately conclude could depend on each one of us.
This holy banquet is now prepared. Before approaching this sacrificial meal, our blessed Lord reminds us that we must be first reconciled with God from our sins and with each other of our offenses.
Even though we are leaving summer behind, there are countless opportunities to confess our sins, and be reconciled with our heavenly Father and through Him to each other, if we respond to our father's plea to share our table with all our family of saints and sinners. This way we know that we have a place at the wedding banquet of the Son of God who continues to search out for and find the lost, the neglected, the reckless and the angry, and bring them home to safety.