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The gospel passage this weekend gives us the well-known parable of the “Prodigal Son” from the gospel of Luke.
Both Luke and Matthew recount the parable of the lost sheep, but only Luke includes the extra parables of the lost coin and the lost (or prodigal) son.
Note that the parables are addressed to the Pharisees and scribes who were complaining that Jesus ate with “sinners.” They condemned those who had gotten too enamored by things of this world…the lost sheep who had wandered away from the practice of the faith…the coin lost in the cracks of life. They didn’t go after them or search for them, trying to find them and bring them back, for they did not consider them or any value. They are the older brother in the parable while those they considered as sinners are represented by the younger brother.
The people in the 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. Unlike the judgement of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus gave “sinners” an open door and a way to come back to God.
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 commonality which binds us together in the same family.