Dear Fellow Parishioners,
This weekend, we have the Parable of the Prodigal Son from the Gospel of Luke. It stands alongside the Parable of the Good Samaritan (also in Luke) as perhaps the best-known parable of all the Gospels. The parables are not only biblical teachings from the early days of Christianity, they have become part of our wider culture as well. The Prodigal Son has been the subject of artistic masterpieces in several media (a woodcut by Durer, two paintings by Rembrandt, referred to in three Shakespeare plays, and even a sculpture in the Pennsylvania State Capitol building, to name a very few). And who has not heard of “Good Samaritan laws” which offer legal protection to those who come to the aid of strangers in need of help?
Parables are powerful because we tend to think and visualize in terms of examples and images: a lost sheep, a lost coin, a mustard seed. These images give witness to a different, and usually deeper, order of truth. Parables are not intended to be historically accurate accounts of events that happened at a specific time and place. They are true because they are self-authenticating observations of some deeper truth regarding God and human experience.
The Gospel of Luke has the largest number of parables that are unique to that gospel (18). The Gospel of John is generally regarded as containing no parables.
Parables tend to fall into general thematic categories: (1) the surpassing value of the Kingdom of God [The Pearl of Great Price, the Hidden Treasure]; (2) preparation for the day of reckoning [The Wedding Banquet, The Wise and Foolish Virgins, The Rich Fool]; (3) loss and redemption [The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, the Prodigal Son]. A very few are unclassified, such as The Unforgiving Servant, The Friend at Night and, most famously, The Good Samaritan.
On the theme of loss and redemption, one of the most powerful modern-day examples is that of Mehmet Ali Agca, the attempted assassin of then – Pope John Paul II on May 13, 1981. After serving 19 years in prison in Italy, he was deported to Turkey to serve another ten years in prison. A frail Pope John Paul II visited him in prison to express his forgiveness in person. On May 13, 2007 – the 26th anniversary of his crime – Acga converted to the Catholic faith. On 27 December 2014, 33 years after his crime, Ağca publicly arrived at the Vatican to lay white roses on the recently canonized John Paul II’s tomb. (While there, he requested a meeting with Pope Francis, which was denied.) This is a first-class example of a parable come to life.
The parable of the Prodigal Son is not only a statement of personal forgiveness, but a keen observation of family life, which is less about fairness than it is about togetherness. The virtues required are humility, generosity and forgiveness – which are deeply Lenten virtues. As we go forward from this Laetare Sunday, let us ask the Lord to make them more our own.
Fr. Bill Donahue