The society in which Jesus lived seemed to have clearly marked out certain groups of people as sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes being among them. The rest presumably thought themselves free of sin. In this season of Lent we are invited to reflect on the fact that that we are all sinners. The story of the boy in today’s gospel is therefore our story too.
It would seem that the family owned a farm, from the mention of animals and fields. The work was probably hard, and the younger son thought living the high life, with lots of money, would bring him happiness. Like all earthly delights, however, the fun came to an end. In western society, where many people can enjoy all kinds of good things, there is a great temptation to forget that they are gifts of God and to treat them as ends in themselves. Jesus illustrated this in the parable about the rich man, who decided life was about eating, drinking and being merry, till God told him he was about to be called to account (Luke 12:16-21).
One of the main points in today’s story is God gives us free will. People ask why he permits such terrible things as the war in the Ukraine. The consequence of having free will is that people can make evil choices. The younger son was left to face the consequences of his actions and eventually he came home, not because he was sorry for having hurt his father but because he was hungry. At least he felt some need for his father, even if it was only to provide him with food.
The elder son would find it much more difficult to repent. Repentance is hard when a person feels resentful and hard done by. There is very little incentive to change when someone is filled with righteous indignation. It is to be hoped that the older brother managed to stop sulking and went in to enjoy the party.