Servility and the Prodigal Son

Rembrandt Prodigal Son

Let’s see who really knows their Bible. The two little parables that we read from Luke 15 at today’s Holy Mass: they serve as a kind of introduction to a larger, super-famous parable…

Right! The Prodigal Son.

So, let’s consider the question: Must we submit to God? Like servants or slaves? Parable of the Prodigal Son answers the question, by showing us how the mercy of God works.

When the prodigal son decides to return to his father’s house, does the young man have ‘pure’ motives?

Hardly. He intends to return as a servant, because he knows that the servants in his father’s house have it better than he has it, at the pig farm. He returns to his father’s house out of self-interest. He’s hungry. He knows his father’s servants don’t go hungry.

But not petulant or proud self-interest. Practical and realistic self-interest. He prepares himself to make a humble and genuine apology to his father for the wrongs he has done him.

It’s not like the prodigal son didn’t love his father. Even in the throes of his sinful passions, he loved him all along. He always took the goodness and kindness of his father for granted, as a given. He always loved the humane man. Life at the pig farm provided him with a contrast to gracious way his father ran his own household.

So the son always loved. But even as he approached his father’s house, the son still did not fully understand his father’s enormous generosity and kindness. He loved it and admired it, but didn’t understand it.

So the father truly took the son by surprise. When the old man would not even pause to hear the son’s full apology. And when the father would not remotely countenance the idea of the son entering the house as a servant. My son, a servant in my own home? No way, Jose. My son wears a ring on his finger, sandals on his feet, and a beautiful robe. Slaughter the fatted calf!

God knows nothing of slavish submission. He knows only pure freedom.

But for us to get there—for us to learn what pure freedom even is—we must humbly submit first. We must follow God’s law out of pure obedience.

And out of self-interest. Because a life of blind obedience to God beats the alternative.

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