For the last week and a half I have been pondering a piece written by Fr. Peter John Cameron for this month’s Magnificat. Perhaps you’ve seen it as well? For those who haven’t, I would like to include a few sections because he brings together two passages that it never would have occurred to me to juxtapose. The first is the gospel reading for this coming Sunday, the story of the prodigal son. The second–well, read on. He begins:
What was it that turned the prodigal son against his father (see Lk 15:11-32)? Maybe the father was like the famous landowner in the parable of the workers hired late (Mt 20.1-16) who goes out five different times in the course of a single day to employ laborers for his vineyard. At five o’clock in the evening he hires yet more workers. And even though these men toil barely an hour, the landowner pays them the usual daily wage–the same salary as all the other laborers. This sparks an outcry among the workers who have labored all day long bearing “the day’s burden and heat.” Perhaps the prodigal son was among those who bitterly grumbled against the landowner. Maybe it was the father’s extravagant display of generosity that provoked the son to demand, “Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.” As if to say: “If you want to be so foolish and wasteful with your money, then give it to me, because I can’t stand being around here anymore if this is the way you want to act.”
And as Fr. Peter goes on to say: “What can the father do?” What can we do when someone rails against our generosity? What is our Father to do when we rail against His generosity?
What can the father do? If he refuses his son, the son will grow sullen and resentful, harboring a grudge that would wreak havoc on the household. But to give his son the sum and let him go would be like setting the boy on the path of his own self-destruction. Ironically, the prodigal son forces his father to become a kind of Abraham on Mount Moriah, where God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac (see Gen 22.1-14). In order not to sin against heaven, the father had to put his son in peril: “Then [Abraham] reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son” (Gen 22.10). Commenting on the father of the parable, the Venerable John Paul II wrote, “The love of the son that springs from the very essence of fatherhood in a way obliges the father to be concerned about the son’s dignity. This concern is the measure of his love.” Thus the father hands over the inheritance and lets his son go.
We know the ending, a happy one. It’s always a risk, but a risk the Father is willing to take–because that’s how much He loves us. When our life seems to be going badly, perhaps it is a result of the Lord letting us go our own way . . . because that is the measure of a Father’s love.