“Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.
But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and has been found.”
(Lk. 15: 31-32)
My dear Family in Christ,
In all likelihood, the Parable of the Prodigal Son is the most famous parable Jesus ever told. Having heard it many times, I find myself often trying to hear it with fresh ears, as though for the first time. This isn’t always doable, but this time around I was caught off guard by one thing: the word, ‘prodigal’. I’ve used this word thousands of times, entirely in reference to this very parable, but I couldn’t really give a confident definition of the word. Maybe I’m not alone… or maybe you’re all just a lot smarter than me.
The English word comes from the Latin ‘prodigus’, meaning ‘wasteful, lavish, recklessly extravagant; to the point of being foolish.’ This makes sense in light of the parable, especially looking at the Younger Son who squanders his inheritance- but he’s not the only ‘prodigal’ one in the parable.
Couldn’t the Father also be described as ‘prodigal’? Consider first the way gave his son the inheritance- while he was still alive! Talk about wastefulness to the point of being foolish. What about the way he welcomed his son back home? He ran to him, kissed him, and even gave him a ring, a cloak, shoes, and a party. Lavish and extravagant, indeed- in a word, ‘prodigal.’
There’s one more ‘prodigal’ in this parable. Often forgotten(though he takes up half the parable, and if you consider the context he is arguably the main point), the Older Son is no less prodigal; he foolishly forgets that he is a beloved son, and that everything his father has belongs also to him. Thus he wastes his birthright, and instead works like a slave. How foolish… how prodigal.
Perhaps this is a tale of three prodigals. Which one are you? Do you rebel against the Father and squander your inheritance? Or do you resent the Father because you’re foolishly trying to earn what is already yours? Regardless, this Gospel calls each of us to stop acting like slaves, and to live our true identity as His sons(or daughters…). In doing so, we not only become what God has wanted for us all along, but we even start to become more like the Father: lavish in mercy and extravagant in love… even if it seems wasteful or foolish.
You could even call it ‘Prodigal’.
God love you, Fr. Corso