The Prodigal Son...

(and the Fourth Character in the Story)

September 22, 2019, Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Prodigal Son. We have heard this parable many times. But what does the word “Prodigal" mean? The word means: “given to reckless spending, wasteful”.

 

We have heard the story many times. We know the characters: The Father, the prodigal son, and the older loyal son.

 

As we hear the story many of us try to sympathize or even identify with one of three characters. The Father of course is God. And God is portrayed as a loving and forgiving God who welcomes back the prodigal son with open arms, putting on the son the finest robe, and the ring; and then slaughters the finest calf to celebrate with a great feast.

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The second character is the prodigal son. He has his good side and his bad side. This is the problem child. This is the one who selfishly wants all his inheritance now; he can’t wait for the father to die. He takes his money and spends it on alcohol, drugs, prostitutes, and 24-7 partying. He eventually runs out of money and is homeless and broke. Sounds just like an addict, doesn’t it? But his good side? He repents. He comes home and asks for forgiveness.

 

The third character is the older son. He has a good side and a bad side too. This is the son who never squandered the father’s money. This is the son who was always loyal. This is the son who was always responsible. This is the son who always worked hard for the father. This is the son who was always there for the father. But he had his bad side. He becomes angry, he yells at the father. He is jealous because his little brother wasted all his father’s money on his addictions and now gets a feast.

 

Which one can you identify with and why?

 

But wait, there is a fourth character in the story, one that always goes unnoticed. He is the one who is the most evil of all. He could be the devil himself. He is the one who really has a bad side. This was the local citizen who took in the prodigal son to tend the swine when the prodigal son was at rock bottom. At first glance this local citizen may have appeared like a good guy trying to help out. But in reality he was a PREDATOR. A Predator is one who is given to preying on others.

Think about it. The local citizen sent the prodigal son out to farm and to tend to the swine. Now the son was a Jew, and Jews were not allowed to have anything to do with pigs. Pigs were considered unclean and the Jews were not even allowed to touch them let alone feed them. And this prodigal son was not even allowed to eat the pig food that was given to the pigs, let alone any produce from the farm.                                                                                                            

This local citizen totally humiliated the son and took full advantage of his destitute situation.

 

This is much the same way as some people today prey on the homeless. This is much the same way as some people today prey on runaway children and teenagers, exploiting them for drugs and sex.

 

This is much the same way as some lenders prey on the poor with predatory lending; giving out loans to people, whom they know, cannot afford them. This man represents people today who exploit others who are completely down and out, completely broken. Instead of taking positive steps to help the poor people out, they simply use them for their own personal gain.

This local citizen was the real sinner in the story today; he was the real evil person.

 

And so, in conclusion, as you hear the story of the Prodigal Son: if you can identify with the father, that is wonderful. You rank right up there with Mother Theresa. If you can identify with the Prodigal son, that’s great too. He was probably an addict, but he hit rock bottom and now he is trying to turn his life around. If you identify with the elder son, that is also great. He was a good and loyal person who never hurt anyone, but just got angry when he perceived injustice.

 

But please, please, don’t ever identify with the local citizen. He was the totally selfish person in the gospel who completely took advantage of others for his own personal gain. Be the loving father, be the sinner who repents, be the good person who sins, but don’t ever be the local citizen who preys on the less fortunate. Amen.

Sunday Readings

Amos 8:4–7

The Lord has sworn: ...Never will I forget a thing [the evildoers] have done!

1 Timothy 2:1–8

There is also one mediator between God and the human race,Christ Jesus, himself human.

Luke 16:1–13 or 16:10–13

[Jesus said,] “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones.”