My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours.
This parable, spoken by Jesus is one of the most famous of all his sayings and stories. Pope Francis is his recent book-length interview referred to the parable of the Prodigal Son as the Gospel in miniature.
His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of this parable, with the title ‘the parable of the two sons’, as for him, the parable is as much about the wandering or prodigal son as it is about the son who stays at home, and it is upon this son that I’d like to draw out some reflections today.
Upon the return of his wayward brother the older son closes himself off. He refuses to participate in the celebrations that are accompanying his return. He, it seems, is not operating out of a logic of love freely given and received. No. Instead his logic is economically minded, in the sense that he sees the love of the father as something of a reward for good behaviour or services rendered.
The father’s response to him is significant. He points out how impoverished this view really is, telling his son that, ‘you are with me always and all I have is yours.’ The son had not seen that he had already inherited all that he had wanted and more, and instead held an erroneous view of his father, one which prevented him from establishing any real relationship of love with him.
Often we find ourselves in the shoes of the lost or prodigal son, and this story is one which gives great comfort and solace. The story however becomes much more challenging when we find ourselves in the shoes of the son who had seemingly done no wrong. In these instances we must remember that ‘being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.’ [BXI, DCE n.1]
We cannot reduce the Gospel to ethic or philosophical propositions, but live from that point of encounter.