Seeds of the Word - The merciful father who had two sons (Part 2)

Parable of the Prodigal Son/Pompeo Girolamo Batoni/Kunsthistorisches Museum/Vienna, Austria Parable of the Prodigal Son/Pompeo Girolamo Batoni/Kunsthistorisches Museum/Vienna, Austria

Part 2 of 3: Divine forgiveness and the restoration of lost dignity

In our previous column, we began a biblical reflection on the parable of the loving father. (Luke 15:11-32) We reviewed step by step the prodigal son’s fall (11-16) as well as his conversion (17-20), as they were developed by Jesus in his story. We’ll focus our attention this time on the process of forgiveness from the father to his son who has repented and come back home — a relevant topic in this Jubilee of Mercy, because Jesus wants to explain God’s mercy through the actions of this father.

A father who forgives with all his being

“While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.” (20) Jesus wants to stress and make clear that the merciful father reacts with all his being when he forgives his son: Noticing he is coming back, he catches sight of him with his eyes. He is filled with compassion. Compassion in Hebrew is rahamim, a feeling from the rehem, a mother’s bosom. There is no deeper love than the one a mother feels for the baby dwelling in her bosom. It is with this very deep love that the merciful father reacts. He runs to his son with his feet and legs. He embraces him with his hands and arms. And he kisses him with his lips. The father’s mercy is so big that he reacts with absolutely all his being as soon as he notices his repented son is coming back, and even this will not suffice — he will throw a big banquet to celebrate his son’s return.

“His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ (21) It’s important to realize how even though the merciful father has forgiven his son with all his being and with the deepest love, he lets him ask for forgiveness. He doesn’t cover his son’s mouth with his hand, but allows him to speak — he lets him confess his sin. The merciful father knows it is important that his son acknowledge he is a sinner and confess it. So big is the love for his son, that he wants him to regain his inner peace. To do so, he must take his guilt and sorrow off his chest, confessing his sin against his father and against God.

A father who restores the dignity lost by his son

“But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.” (22) In Scripture, being naked is a symbol of having lost all dignity (Adam and Eve realize they are naked after committing the original sin). The prodigal son lost his dignity by having sinned against heaven and against his father; by having abandoned his father, his home, his nation and his God; by choosing to live a life of sin. His merciful father asks his servants to put on him the finest robe in order to restore the dignity his son had lost.

The prodigal son had broken the law by asking his father to give him his share of the estate. In consequence, he had lost his legal rights. His father restores those rights by placing a ring on his son’s finger.

Slaves used to go barefoot. The prodigal son had become a slave of sin. His father releases him from this slavery by putting sandals on his feet. We may see how one step at a time, the merciful father not only forgives his son, but restores the dignity his son had lost.

Having forgiven his son and having restored his dignity, the merciful father orders his servants, “Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.” (23-24)

Be passionate about our faith!

Read the Spanish version of this “Semillas de la Palabra” column from the July/August 2016 issue of NORTHWEST CATHOLIC.

Mauricio I. Pérez, a member of St. Monica Parish on Mercer Island, is a Catholic journalist. His website is