The final scene of Luke 15 gets a lot of mileage these days. I’m not sure it can be overstated. Jesus is clearly poking at Pharisees and scribes for whom this story was created in the first place. Like he greeted the son returning home from that distant country, he also emerges from the house to greet his faithful son.
One way commentators look at this final encounter of the parable is in terms of the use of the word “your.” The servant identifies the lost boy and the father as being in relationship with the older son.
Now the older son had been out in the field and,
on his way back,
as he neared the house,
he heard the sound of music and dancing.
He called one of the servants
and asked what this might mean.
The servant said to him,
‘Your brother has returned
and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf
because he has him back safe and sound.’
The anger is not unlike that of the religious who objected to Jesus among sinners:
He became angry,
and when he refused to enter the house,
his father came out and pleaded with him.
He said to his father in reply,
‘Look, all these years I served you
and not once did I disobey your orders;
yet you never gave me even a young goat
to feast on with my friends.
But when your son returns
who swallowed up your property with prostitutes,
for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
Notice: “my” friends, but “your” son. The elder has disowned the returning brother. And more, as Jesus tells it, the life in that distant land was one of dissipation. That may have included prostitutes, but how would that be known? It would be assumed.
I was drawn to the verb “must.”
He said to him,
‘My son, you are here with me always;
everything I have is yours.
But now we must celebrate and rejoice,
because your brother was dead
and has come to life again;
he was lost and has been found.’”
The father’s impulse is phrased as a requirement, a mandate, a rubric. Celebration is essential. Why would that be?
Obviously, there’s no reading better suited to the Sacrament of Penance than this parable. We are fortunate to hear it at Sunday Mass twice in this Jubilee of Mercy. What message here resonates for you? How would you preach it today? To yourself, your faith community?