The Parable of the Prodigal and His Brother

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Reflection on the Gospel of the Fourth Sunday Of Lent

Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Today’s Gospel is a familiar parable, it follows the parables of ‘The Lost Sheep’ and ‘The Lost Coin’. Some of us may also want to caption today’s parable as ‘The Lost Son’. However, the heart of the matter is that the meaning of love is what is lost. Love is often seen immaturely as a transactional relationship rather than an authentic one. Relationships fall apart because we try to possess love, as if we could own it: give me my share! The younger son is like those who find relationships suffocating: they want to love, but without commitment, without constraints. Affection becomes a right to be claimed and love, something to be demanded.

But every authentic relationship is demanding and pulls us out of our egoism; it forces us to give up some of our freedom. We hunger for real relationships: thus he who flees from relationships, in the end, inevitably hires himself out to another. In the end, simply to eat, he accepts even the pods meant for swine!

The younger son represents those who believe they can only ever be in a relationship of servitude: treat me like one of your servants! For him, a relationship is still something asphyxiating but the Father will show him that there is such a thing as a relationship of freedom.

The Father is He who creates paths of reconciliation. The Father’s love is expressed in profound actions – the new robe is a symbol of restored dignity. The ring bears the stamp that permits him to manage the father’s goods. The sandals are a symbol of the free man (the slave walks barefoot), because in a healthy relationship we should never feel condemned to be the servant of the other.

The older son represents those who live love as if it were a rivalry; since he is always in competition with others, he is always measuring love. In his anger, the older son is blind to the idea that love is a shared relationship.

There’s no conclusion for this parable, the younger and the older sons are left to reflect on their choices. We too are left to reflect on our relationship with others and with God? Is it immature, transactional, competitive or authentic, self-giving love?