Part 1 of 3 : The processes of destruction and conversion
The Gospel according to Luke is known as “the Gospel of mercy.” God’s mercy is beautifully and eloquently presented — just look at the parables of mercy.
One of these is a full treatise on mercy. Jesus develops the processes of perdition, conversion, God’s merciful forgiveness, and jealousy that prevents someone from being merciful toward someone else who failed but has repented. We’re talking about the parable of the merciful father (known by some as the parable of the prodigal son).
The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy is an excellent pretext to study this parable and reflect on its teachings. We’ll reflect on each of the actors of this story in this and the next two columns of Seeds of the Word. Let’s start with the prodigal son, his fall and his conversion.
The steps towards perdition
“A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.” (Luke 15:11-13)
The custom was that the firstborn asked for his share of the estate, not the younger son. By requesting it, the prodigal son breaks with his customs and breaks the law. He takes his fortune and leaves, abandoning his family, his home, his nation and his culture — he loses his identity. He ceases being who he was before.
If this was not enough, he leaves to a distant country, a pagan country, a Godless country.
With no father, with no nation, with no culture, with no God and with no self-identity, this young man depends now on his money alone. And even that he loses by squandering it on a life of dissipation.
“When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any.” (14-16)
This young man, who has lost even his money, only has his personal dignity left — and he also loses that! Seeking a way to survive the famine, he has no choice but tending the swine. For the Jews, these were the most impure animals. The prodigal son couldn’t fall any lower. He had reached the bottom.
Having lost it all, his conversion process begins. Jesus develops it step by step:
The steps toward conversion
“Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.’ So he got up and went back to his father.” (17-20)
The young man comes to his senses, acknowledges and accepts that he has sinned against his father and against God. He realizes he ceased being the one he truly should be. He realizes how much he has lost and repents. He decides to mend his faults by going back to his father. He decides to ask for forgiveness both to his father and to God. And what’s more important, his plan does not fall short by remaining a good intention only. He acts upon it, getting up and going back to his father. Each step of this conversion process developed by Jesus in the parable is essential to merit the mercy of the Father.
In our next column we’ll reflect on the detailed process of God’s mercy, as developed by Jesus in this parable.
Be passionate about our faith!
Read the Spanish version of this “Semillas de la Palabra” column from the June 2016 issue of NORTHWEST CATHOLIC.