THE parable of the prodigal son has a side story worth meditating on. I believe it contains rich and very relevant lessons for all of us to learn, especially during these that tend to lead us to rash judgments and self-righteousness.
Itâ€™s the story of the other son, the brother of the prodigal son, who remained with his father and who appeared to be faithful to him, until the wayward brother came back and somehow caused trouble to him.
Like this other son, we can appear good and faithful, but sad to say, in appearance or in name only. The real goodness and fidelity are actually absent. When a returning sinner or person in error appears at home and is welcomed by God, our Father, that sad reality appears too.
More concretely, this can happen when all our interest and eagerness for what is true and good would make us hateful of those who are in error or in some bad state. Itâ€™s a sense of righteousness that fails to include mercy and the cost that such mercy requires.
This is not so with God as epitomized by Christ himself. He is all true and good. He is the very canon of holiness. And yet what does he do with those who go against him? There is justice and punishment, of course. But in the end, there is mercy.
He sent his very own Son to us. Becoming man, the Son ultimately offered his life on the cross as a ransom for all of us. Mercy is the prevailing divine sentiment, going beyond the demands of justice.
In the parable of the prodigal son, we have the consoling thought that the errant character regretted what he did, and decided to go back to his father, asking for forgiveness.
But in some other parts of the gospel, we also learn that Christ forgave those who did not even ask for forgiveness. For example, he asked for forgiveness for those who crucified him. â€œForgive them, Father, for they know not what they are doing.â€ (Lk 23,34).
St. Paul expressed this sentiment of Christ by saying, â€œFor our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.â€ (2 Cor 5,21)
In his Letter to the Romans, he said: â€œGod shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.â€ (5,7)
Itâ€™s very important that we understand these words very well, so that even as we ought to know and follow what is right and avoid what is wrong, and even as we, of course, also have to comply with the demands of justice, we still should have to go beyond these levels, and reach the point of mercy and reconciliation.
This is what true righteousness is. We should avoid getting stuck at the level of justice alone, which in our human ways can never reach the justice of God that includes his mercy.
This was the problem with the other son, the brother of the prodigal son. He got stuck with his human concept of justice. And so the father, who in this parable is the image of God, had to tell him:
â€œSon, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.â€ (Lk 15,31-32)
This is not going to be easy, of course. Christ himself said that if any person wants to follow him, â€œhe must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.â€ (Lk 9,23)
Our human justice is usually stuck with the merely punitive. That it redresses the wrong done is more incidental than anything. That it is restorative and medicinal to both the victim and the guilty party can only be at best accidental.
We need to have the justice of God, which can only happen when we would completely identify ourselves with Christ and do the revolutionary thing of denying ourselves and carrying the cross. Short of this, we can only be like the other son of the parable of the prodigal son.
We have to be careful that in our pursuit for what is true, good, fair in our dealings with others, we donâ€™t fall into our own self-righteousness, missing the righteousness that is of God. The former avoids the cross. The latter requires it.
We have to understand then that the cross is necessary in our life, both in good times and in bad.Â (By Fr. Roy Cimagala)