The “Prodigal Son”, which we hear today, is one of Jesus’ best-known parables. In the closing scene, the elder son refuses to join the celebration, so the father comes out and pleads with him. It ends there and we never know whether the elder son went in or stayed out. Here is an imaginary ending written by US bishop, the late Ken Untener of the diocese of Saginaw:
While the father and elder son are arguing in the backyard, the mother comes out and says, “Now I have had just about enough.” To her husband, “You’ve always favoured our youngest and you know it. Our elder son works hard every day and you take him for granted. I hardly ever hear you say ‘thank you,’ except to the hired hands. It’s about time you started noticing your family for a change.” Then to the elder son, “And you….always the martyr. You act as if you’re the only one who has to go the extra mile. Well, I have to do it and so does everybody else. It’s time you learned to swallow hard and rise above the things in life that are unfair. Stop your silly pouting.” She then goes and gets the younger son. “And you, the spoiled little prince— in there celebrating and you never even thought to ask about your brother and apologize for leaving him to do all the work. It’s about time you realized that the whole world doesn’t revolve around you.” Then to the three of them, “Work out your differences some other time. We’ve got company, so get in there and start acting like family instead of three-year-olds.” Reconciliations can be complicated but that’s no reason not to reconcile.
The real point of the story is what happens after the curtain comes down. We don’t know if the Father’s extra-ordinary love will ever be abused again by a self-indulgent son. We don’t know if the older son will join the party. Forgiveness, although freely given, can still be hard work. We do know that at the centre of every strained human relationship, dwells a God who is mother and father waiting to welcome us when we come to our senses. We search for fulfilment in vain, going every which way, if we are continually running away from ourselves and others. To journey “home” to our true selves takes some trust, some honesty and some courage. When Jesus encourages us to repent, he is, in reality, inviting us to come home.