Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

March 18, 2017 / By: Dr. Catherine Cory

A Prodigal Father mirrors a Prodigal Son

Mi 7:14-20/Lk 15:1-3, 11-32

It is widely understood that the Lenten season is about examining our faults and failings and making a commitment to change our ways so that we can live a richer moral and spiritual life. But today’s scripture readings remind us of another aspect of Lent – that God is a God who is eager to forgive our sinfulness and treat us with compassion. This we can rely upon because of God’s long history of faithfulness throughout salvation history.

Our first reading comes from the Book of Micah, named after a rural prophet of the late 8th century BCE. Much of this book consists of oracles of judgment against people who were more concerned about their own welfare than doing good and acting justly toward others. The people were also charged with listening to false prophets who told them what they wanted to hear rather than the truth about their crimes against God’s covenant. However, today’s reading consists of a prayer, in which the author asks God to shepherd the people as he did in days of old and vindicate his people in the face of their enemies. He then bursts forth in praise of God who totally ignores the people’s guilt and who delights in mercy and compassion. 

I want to suggest that this is the perfect example of a prodigal God. The word “prodigal” is not often used today, except perhaps with reference to the story of the lost son, better known as the parable of the prodigal son, which happens to be today’s Gospel reading. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “prodigal” as (1) characterized by profuse or wasteful expenditure or lavish as in a prodigal feast; (2) recklessly spendthrift (3) yielding abundantly. In today’s first reading, God is praised as prodigal because, throughout human history, God sets aside the right to act with punitive judgment against his sinful people in favor of totally gratuitous and unwarranted mercy and love.

This takes us to the Gospel story of the lost son, which I would propose should be called the parable of the prodigal father. Why? It is a story about a man who had two sons. The younger one came to him one day, asking for his inheritance and for all intents and purposes declaring his father dead to him. The son immediately goes off and squanders his money on immoral and degenerate living until he finds himself with no options but to work for a local pig farmer, “slopping hogs,” as I and my siblings used to say. 

Yes, the young son was suffering the results of his prodigal lifestyle, but here’s where the greater prodigality is evident. When the son decides that he would be better off returning to his father’s house to become a servant, we learn that the father had already been waiting for him. Any self-respecting father of that time would have considered this son dead to him from the moment he left on his decadent adventure. Then we learn that the father runs to the wayward son. A man of such importance would not disgrace himself by running! Finally, this father, out of overflowing compassion, barely acknowledges his son’s attempt at repentance, but instead welcomes the son back into the family with new clothes and a place of honor at a lavish banquet. What prodigality! More importantly, the Lukan Jesus offers this story as an example of God’s prodigal love toward sinners.

Here’s a challenge for us: be prodigal toward others today as God is prodigal toward us every day.

Dr. Catherine Cory
Chair, History Department