The Point of the Parable of the Prodigal: Be Amazed by How Much God Loves Us

User’s Guide to Sunday, Sept. 11

How do and should we respond to the Father?
How do and should we respond to the Father? (photo: Illustration / Annalisa Jones/Shutterstock)

Sunday, Sept. 11, is the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass readings: Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32 or Luke 15:1-10.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son has the Lord Jesus presenting God’s love for us as mysterious and, to some degree, unexplainable in human terms. Who really understands unlimited and unconditional love? Who can really grasp the depths of God’s mercy? His grace is “amazing,” in that it goes completely beyond our ability to comprehend. Let’s consider the parable’s teachings.

Crazy! A young man, entitled by law to a third of his father’s estate essentially tells his father to “drop dead.” He wants his inheritance now, and the old man isn’t dying fast enough. Incredibly, the father gives it to him! The father is a nobleman (landowner) and could hand his son over for serious punishment for such dishonor; but he doesn’t! Inheritance in hand, the son leaves his father and goes off to “a distant land,” where he sinks so low that he ends up looking up to pigs. He comes to his senses and returns to his father, daring only to hope to become one of his father’s hired workers.

Crazier! The father sees his son from a long way off (i.e., he was looking for him) and runs to him. Running was beneath the dignity of a nobleman because it implied that he was either a slave on an errand or a fugitive. Further, for a man to run in the ancient world he first had to “gird up” his long, flowing robe. Otherwise, his legs would get tangled up in the garment, and he could trip and fall. For a nobleman to show his legs was also an indignity.

Do you get the picture? This nobleman — this father — is humbling himself. He is running, and his legs are showing. This is crazy! Consider what this son has done: Does he deserve this humble love? No! The father is crazy! The Heavenly Father is “crazy,” too. He actually loves us and humbles himself for us. He even sent his own Son for us. Do you and I understand what we have done? Do we deserve this? No! It’s crazy!

Crazier still! The second son is also a handful. When he hears of the party being given for his wayward brother, he refuses to come. And what does the father do? He comes out and pleads with him to enter! No father in the ancient world would have permitted his son to speak to him in this way. The son basically calls him a slave-driver who issues orders; he refuses to enter the party that his father is hosting, saying that he would rather have a kid goat and celebrate with his friends than with his father. But the goal in life is not to celebrate with your friends — it is to celebrate with the Father in heaven.

Yes, the father, i.e., the Heavenly Father, is crazy. Do you know what it means to refuse to do what God says? And yet we do it every time we sin! Our Heavenly Father should not have to tolerate this. He is God, and we are his creatures.

There are other Scriptures that speak of God’s punishments. But in the end, none of us get what we really deserve. Jesus’ point in the parable is that God is merciful, and his love is crazy; his love for us is extravagant beyond what is humanly reasonable or explainable. Don’t try to figure it out.

Just be astonished — be amazed — that God loves us in such a crazy, unexplainable way. God is love!