The Pharisees and scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." So Jesus told them a parable.
Or, at least, that’s what I was told. Every day. Sometimes several times a day, depending on what my younger siblings had done wrong.
Now, I should note that my brother remembers it differently. "Elizabaeth," he says, "you were the star. We all looked up to you."
"Yeah, well," said I, "whenever you guys did anything wrong, Mom blamed me."
Guess it all depends on your perspective, eh?
And then, the unthinkable: “Elizabeth, where’s your brother? Have you seen your brother? I can’t find your brother! Where is he?”
I stood in place as people seemed to be swirling around me. Suddenly, my mother’s face appeared right in front of my face. She was shaking my shoulders and calling my name. She was asking me the last time I had seen my brother? Had a stranger been in the neighborhood? Anyone I didn’t know?
It seemed like the whole neighborhood was frozen in place for a few seconds and everyone looked over at my brother. My mother screamed and ran over to him.She was crying. My grandmother was crying. My sisters were crying. My neighbors were crying. Everyone was so relieved and happy and excited.
I could feel the fear that had once had me frozen melt away as a slow burning rage over took my body from my head right down to my toes. I didn’t dare move in case anyone noticed that I wasn’t smiling and happy and cheering and crying. I was furious.
Apparently, ice cream doesn’t ruin your supper if you’re a Little Prince who falls asleep under the backyard picnic table and everyone in the entire neighborhood is in a fevered sweat looking for you and you are found.
No, it’s not the same situation. At all. I remembered this story because I can only imagine that this must be what the elder son felt when he saw his younger brother return home after wasting his inheritance.
“Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!”
It is the father who is prodigal.
When his younger son returns after years of sin and debauchery, and begs forgiveness, his father is extravagant and lavishly wasteful in his forgiveness of his young son.
The message of the parable is that Jesus, like God, is prodigal. He is extravagant in his forgiveness; lavishly wasteful in his love for them.
Jesus is saying that because God and he are prodigal, so, too, should we be.
“Forgiveness is not a destination; it’s a path.”