There are a couple of things this beautiful parable of our Lord does not tell us.
First of all, it has no ending. The last scene has the father still standing outside his home begging his elder son to join the celebration.
The reason there is no ending provided is that our Lord is asking his listeners–the scribes and Pharisees then, as well as us today–to furnish the ending. The parable ends with an implicit question:
Are you willing to accept–and celebrate–God’s prodigal mercy, extended not only exclusively to the righteous, but also indiscriminately to all sinners?
It’s not an easy thing to do–especially if you’ve exerted all that effort living an upright life. But our Lord has said, “Be merciful as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). We are asked to be as merciful as the Father.
It is interesting that Matthew’s version puts it in a slightly different–and more impossible!–way: “Be perfect as your Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
Maybe being merciful is our best and only shot at perfection. Our Lord is telling us that like his heart and God’s, our heart can also be a door wide open to all.
It’s not an easy teaching. But our Lord insists on this boundless mercy of God. In another parable, he talks about how a vineyard owner pays the same wages to both the early laborers and the latecomers (Matthew 20:1-16).
He ends that parable in almost the same way he ends the story of the lost son–with a question, but a more direct one. The vineyard owner says to the complaining laborers: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?”
Self-righteousness and resentment–that has to be one of the most effective temptations the evil spirit uses against nice people.
Here’s a timely reminder from actress Carrie Fisher aka Princess Leia. It’s another reason to consider forgiving those who have harmed you.
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