by Fr Martin McCormack SDB MA.LPC
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The parable of the prodigal son, sometimes called the parable of the merciful father is one of my favourite stories in the scriptures. Great artists have painted masterpieces depicting this story. In the cultural world which Jesus lived, the son’s request to be given his inheritance while his father is still alive would have been unheard of, almost impossible and a slap in the face to the father and the rest of the clan. Loyalty to the clan was crucial for survival. In Palestinian culture members of a family only understood themselves in relation to their family, their kin, village and religious community. To make such a request was to treat the father as if he were dead.
To discourage this behaviour the community developed what was called the kezazah ceremony. Any Jewish boy who lost his inheritance among the gentiles faced the ceremony, if he dared return to his village. The ceremony itself was simple. Fellow villagers would fill a large earthenware pot with burned nuts and burned corn and break it in front of the guilty individual. While doing this they would shout-so and so is cut off from this people. From that point on, the village would have nothing to do with the lad.
The son’s return would have been the ultimate humiliation for the father and for the whole family; he would have been shunned forever. From the very beginning of the parable then we are given a powerful that God as father is different from the others. He is one who refuses to own us, demand our submission or punish our rebellion. Rather God is the one who respects our freedom, mourns our wanderings and waits patiently for our return .Until Jesus day, it was the sinner who must return to God. Jesus however turns everything on its head and emphasises the need for God to come to us. today is an invitation to return to our father whom we have left, but who has never left us The father never saw him as not being his child. That’s why he was at the top of the hill waiting for his return.
I sometimes wonder about the son who stayed at home – Supposing he had a moment of profound enlightenment . He puts his arm around his father and says. You’re right dad, I’m sorry, I’ve been such an fool, can I get you a beer?
But we never learn what the older brother decided to do. The story hangs with the father’s words. Jesus leaves the story unresolved. Some older brothers never join the party. Some fathers never throw one. Some brothers never come back. Somethings never get resolved. Lots of parties are missing somebody. If we thought about this in relation to our parish what would emerge? Who is missing in our community this morning. Who do we need to go out and seek and bring back home?