The famous parable of the “prodigal son” (perhaps better referred to as the parable of the “forgiving father”) forms our gospel passage for this weekend. Note that the parable is addressed to the Pharisees and scribes who were complaining that Jesus ate with “sinners.” They are the older brother in the parable while those they considered as sinners are represented by the younger brother. The people in this latter group were Jewish in background and belief but had chosen pathways in life which caused them to leave the embrace of the Jewish community. Tax collectors worked for the Romans and were, therefore, not welcome in synagogues. Prostitutes were excluded for their lifestyle as were a number of other “sinners” for one reason or another. Although not publicly practicing their religion, they still felt a desire in their heart to be at peace and reconciled with God, evident in their attraction to Jesus. Previously they had not been given an opening to come back to God, only judgement.
Jesus could read their hearts and received them as the father in the parable received his returning son. His openness gave them an opportunity for reconciliation with God, resulting in a celebration. At times we may tend to be like the Pharisees, judging and rejecting people rather than opening a door for restoration and reconciliation with God. We need to make a conscious effort to take Jesus’ approach if we are to call ourselves Christians. Through the father in the parable, Jesus challenges us to be understanding and patient with those who differ from ourselves in the way they think and act … to look for the communality which binds us together in the same family.