One of the more overlooked facts from the parable of the Prodigal Son is that after the younger brother has wasted all his inheritance, he knows his father is merciful.
He counts on that mercy, but does not presume upon it; he only expects his father to bring him on as a servant.
He does not expect to be brought back as a son. He is aware of the gravity of his sin against his father and against God.
What the son finds is a mercy far greater than what he rightfully expects. His father is so overjoyed at his son’s return that the boy scarcely gets his apology out before the father restores him to the family.
But this parable is not only about the younger son.
Scripture tells us that the parable is directed to the scribes and Pharisees who scorn Jesus for eating with and consorting with tax collectors and sinners.
The second focus of the story is the older brother.
He does not share in his father’s disposition of mercy. He holds his brother in so much contempt that he refers to him as “your son” and not “my brother.”
The father is saddened that for a son who has “done everything you ever asked” has not taken on his father’s quality of mercy.
The older son is no more like his father at the end of the story than the younger son is like his father at the beginning of the story.
The parable ends open-ended: will the older son adopt the attitude of the mercy of his father, or will he be the one separated from his father?
All of us sin. All of us fall short of the mark.
Maybe we are wasteful with our freedom as was the younger son, or we have failed to take on the attitude of the Father as the older son.
Recalling where Jesus tells us “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” we fall just as short through a lack of mercy and charity as does the person who squanders their freedom on a sinful life.
Our Church has become a Church of long Communion lines, and short (if existent at all) Confession lines.
We want the benefits of being God’s children while we reject the duties of being God’s children. It is easy to justify our own sin while easily condemning the sins of another. As the weekend Gospel reminded us, we court eternal disaster in doing so.
We have a merciful Father who wants to forgive.
Jesus knows how we are hard-wired and knows what we need, hence, he leaves us the Sacrament of Confession to give us the concrete way of experiencing what the younger son experiences at the hands of his father.
Don’t let this Lent pass by without making it to confession.
Allow the mercy of the Father to bring you fully home, so that you may share fully in both the duties and benefits of being His child.