A Practical Commentary on Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Posted by Dim Bulb on March 8, 2010
For more commentaries relating to Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 and the other readings for the 4th Sunday of Lent go here.
The following consists of the text of the Prodigal Son, interspersed with brief note, there then follows at the end a commentary
Luk 15:11 And he said: A certain man had two sons.
Luk 15:12 And the younger of them said to his father: Father, give me the portion of substance that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his substance.
Falleth to me. According to the Jewish law of inheritance the younger son received only half as much as the eldest, but as long as his father was alive he could count on nothing. The father was therefore in no way bound to give his son his future inheritance during his own life-time; but rather than force him to stay at home against his will, he gave it to him, though he knew very well that his son would soon squander away his fortune.
Luk 15:13 And not many days after, the younger son, gathering all together, went abroad into a far country: and there wasted his substance, living riotously.
A far country. He hoped to have more liberty away from his father’s house. he chafed under the discipline of his home-life, and his father’s supervision. he considered the restraints unnecessary and undignified, and felt sure that he would be happier, if he were his own master and could do just as he liked. The calm happiness of his father’s house no longer satisfied him. He thought it monotonous and wearisome, and pined for the license of noisy pleasures, picturing to himself a happy life in the vortex of the world. His father warned him, but he cast his warnings to the four winds, and defiantly left his home.
Living riotously. Joining himself to flatterers and lewd companions, and indulging in drinking, banqueting and unworthy pleasures.
Luk 15:14 And after he had spent all, there came a mighty famine in that country: and he began to be in want.
In want. For his “friends” quickly forsook him, when they could get nothing more out of him.
Luk 15:15 And he went and cleaved to one of the citizens of that country. And he sent him into his farm to feed swine.
Luk 15:16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.
Feed swine. He had to accept the most degrading situation to save himself from dying of starvation. His labors, however, were so badly paid that often he had not enough to eat, suffered bitter hunger, and even envied the swine their food. Poor, unhappy man, how miserable he was! Once the proud and headstrong son of a rich father, he was now clothed in rags, despised, emaciated, and hungry!
Luk 15:17 And returning to himself, he said: How many hired servants in my father’s house abound with bread, and I here perish with hunger!
Returning to himself. What a deep and striking expression! In the same sense it may be said that he had hitherto been out of himself, or beside himself. he had never thought seriously either of himself or of his future; he had been given over to pleasure, and had lived carelessly from day to day. Now bitter necessity forced him to enter into himself, and to ask himself why he was reduced to such a miserable condition, and what was to become of him. He called to mind his happy life in his father’s house, and sorrowfully reminded himself that even his father’s hired day-laborers were better off than he was now. He recognized that he had only himself to thank for his state of misery, and while repenting of having ever left his home, he made the resolution to return at once to his father, to confess his sin, and humbly beg to be received by him once more.
Luk 15:18 I will arise and will go to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee.
I have sinned. He took all the blame upon himself, and did not try to excuse himself on the score of his youth, or the influence of bad companions.
Against heaven. Against God, my heavenly Father.
Before thee. Against thee, my earthly father.
Luk 15:19 I am not worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
I am not worthy. How humble had he become who was once so proud! he was not willing to serve his father in the lowest position, and to do any work, if only he would forgive him.
Luk 15:20 And rising up, he came to his father. And when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion and running to him fell upon his neck and kissed him.
And rising up. He carried out his resolution at once. No doubt he said to himself: “What will people say when they see me returning home in such a wretched state!” but he overcame all false shame and was bravely resolved to accept every consequence of his sin-if only he could obtain his father’s forgiveness.
His father saw him. Every day he went to look out, in the hope that he might see his son returning.
Luk 15:21 And the son said to him: Father: I have sinned against heaven and before thee I am not now worthy to be called thy son.
Luk 15:22 And the father said to his servants: Bring forth quickly the first robe and put it on him: and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet.
The first robe, ring and shoes. The father, seeing his wretched condition, was moved to intense pity, and at once ordered the servants to restore to him all the garments and ornaments befitting a son of the family.
Luk 15:23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it: and let us eat and make merry:
Luk 15:24 Because this my son was dead and is come to life again, was lost and is found. And they began to be merry.
Make merry…And they began to be merry. Picture to yourselves the emotion of the son, the heartfelt joy of the father, and the rejoicing of all the servants that their master, whom they all loved and honored, should no longer have to grieve over his lost child.
Dead. Meaning “dead to me.”
Luk 15:25 Now his elder son was in the field and when he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing.
Luk 15:26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.
Luk 15:27 And he said to him: Thy brother is come and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe.
Luk 15:28 And he was angry and would not go in. His father therefore coming out began to entreat him.
Entreat him. To come and take part in the rejoicings.
Luk 15:29 And he answering, said to his father: Behold, for so many years do I serve thee and I have never transgressed thy commandment: and yet thou hast never given me a kid to make merry with my friends.
Luk 15:30 But as soon as this thy son is come, who hath devoured his substance with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.
And answering. The elder son could not understand his father’s treatment of the returned prodigal, and in his vexation made out to himself that his father loved his brother better than himself.
Luk 15:31 But he said to him: Son, thou art always with me; and all I have is thine.
Luk 15:32 But it was fit that we should make merry and be glad: for this thy brother was dead and is come to life again; he was lost, and is found.
Thou art always with me. “You therefore, have far more than your brother. Are you not aware of your happiness in never having left me?”
By this beautiful parable our Blessed Lord teaches us how willing Almighty God is to receive the penitent sinner, and how rejoiced He is at his return. Our Lord describes: 1. the falling away of a sinner from God; 2. the return of the sinner to God; and 3. God’s reception of the penitent sinner.
The father in the parable signifies god; the elder son, the just; and the younger son, the sinner.
A. Man begins to fall away from God by allowing unlawful desires to take possession of his heart. In consequence, he will soon come to regard God’s commandments as so many fetters, and to long for greater license. He loses all taste for prayer and the word of God, and imagines that he would be a happier man if he could live according to his passions. Having thus separated himself inwardly from God, an outward separation speedily follows. he renounces the friendship of good men, neglects the services of the Church and the frequenting of the Sacraments, follows his own way, and shamelessly transgresses God’s commandments. He then goes into a strange and distant land, namely further and further from God: the “far country”, says St Augustine, “signifies the forgetfulness of God.”
Almighty God lets the sinner go his own way, for He has given to man free-will, and does not want a forced obedience, but an obedience springing from love.
In his forgetfulness of God, the sinner squanders his fortune, i.e., the natural and supernatural gifts which he has received, using his natural gifts, his health, his physical powers, and his reason, to offend God. He acts most unjustly and ungratefully towards his Creator and Benefactor, and loses the grace of God, merit, and the heirship to heaven.
The sinner, having forsaken the service of his God, falls into the servitude of Satan, and becomes the slave of his lowest passions, which are signified by the swine which the prodigal was constrained to feed. But the more he obeys his passions, the more dissatisfied does he become. No pleasure of the senses can give him happiness, and he feels a void and spiritual hunger in his heart which he is powerless to appease. He knows no rest; he only knows that he is miserable, and hateful to himself, and he bitterly tastes the truth of the words of Scripture: “Know thou, and see that it is an evil and a bitter thing for thee to have left the Lord thy God” (Jer 2:19).
B. The sinner’s conversion or return to God begins by a sincere examination of his own heart. Like the prodigal, he must enter into himself, and face the grievousness and number of his sins. He must, by the help of God’s grace, confess that his conduct has been wrong, ungrateful, and foolish, and that he is miserable simply because he has forsaken God. He must try to recall the joy and peace which were his, before he fell into sin; and he must gaze into the future, at death, judgment and eternity. Then there will rise within him a longing desire to be at peace with god, and orrow and repentance for having ever separated himself from Him.
The prodigal son lost a great deal, but he did not lose faith in his father’s mercy, and therefore did not despair. Thus a sinner must fan the flame of his faith in God’s mercy, and the hope of forgiveness; and this faith and hope will move him to form resolutions of amendment. “I will arise and go to my father,” was the resolution made by the prodigal. This resolution was a sincere one, for he determined (a) to return home and thus avoid sin and the occasions of sin; (b) to humble himself, confess his sin, and obey his father; and (c) to do penance by hard, servile work and self-abasement.
The prodigal’s contrition was real, interior and supernatural; therefore he hastened to cast himself humbly at his father’s feet, confess his sin, and implore his pardon. The confession of sins is the obvious and necessary expression of contrition, and is the indispensable condition of forgiveness.
C. God’s reception of the penitent sinner. The prodigal son carried out his good resolutions at once. Thus must it be with the sinner: he must not put off his conversion, but must be reconciled to God as soon as possible. And then, even as the father in the parable went to meet his son and received him lovingly, so will God meet the sinner by His merciful grace, forgive him his sins, and give him the kiss of peace. Then, by the hands of his servants (i.e., the priests), He re-clothes him with robes of innocence, i.e., sanctifying grace, and adorns him again with supernatural virtues befitting the state of a divine sonship (symbolized by the ring), and enabling him to walk justly before God (symbolized by the shoes). Finally, God prepares a feast for the converted sinner, giving to him the Lamb of God, for the nourishment of the soul, in Holy Communion. The Lord God rejoices and calls on all His Angels and Saints to rejoice with Him, because a man who was dead, who had lost the supernatural life of grace, and who was under the sentence of eternal death, is alive again, and is once more a child of God and an heir of heaven.
Mortal Sin. Our Lord Himself in this parable describes a sinner as one who is dead: therefore we are right in using the term “mortal” sin.
God’s incomprehensible love of penitent sinners. Though the sinner has offended Him so grievously and so often, yet He reproaches him not, but forgives him everything, and restores him to his former rights and dignity of sonship. God alone can love in this way, and to us this sort of love is inconceivable. Our Lord portrays this narrow-mindedness of ours in the conclusion of the parable. The elder son cannot understand his father’s joy; he murmurs at it, and refuses to take part in it; and even professes to believe that his father prefers the returned prodigal to himself, the faithful, obedient and industrious son. By this behavior of the elder son our Lord signifies the jealousy of the Pharisees, who considered themselves to be just, and murmured at the deep interest which Jesus took in sinners. By the father’s answer in the parable our Lord shows how very unjustifiable any such jealousy would be. The just man ought to think of the great happiness which he has had of being always in the love and grace of God: and if he will try to realize what the infinite love of God is for every soul which He has made, he will rejoice with God as often as a soul which had been lost is found or saved. As the angels rejoice over the return of the prodigal, so ought we to rejoice over the conversion of sinners!
Application: You too have offended God, though perhaps not so grievously as did the sinner in the parable; and God has forgiven you your sins in the holy Sacrament of Penance. Have you thanked Him for this? You ought to make a devout thanksgiving each time you have been to confession. Do not repay the love of your god with fresh ingratitude.