2nd Saturday of Lent
In the classic folk tale or fairy tale, the younger son is usually the hero, the dark horse. No one expects much of him. He is the one who is left out of the father’s inheritance, has to leave home penniless, takes risks, has many adventures and finally returns home a hero – stronger and also richer.
Or let’s say if we took the Father out of the picture in this parable and let’s also say the older son had not opened his mouth and spewed out such bitterness, if I had polled you – most of us would have voted him the hero, the good son who stuck it out through thick and thin, the virtuous son, the one who did not abandon his duty, the one who did not play around. He would correspond to the hero in the classic pagan religious story you would encounter in ancient Greece or India for that matter – of the one who had triumphed over his base desires through sheer will power.
The surprising thing about this parable is that it has no heroes. The younger son does everything wrong and is miserable and he is obviously the sinner. But the shocking thing is that the older son does everything right and is also revealed as a sinner.
However there is a hero of this story. It is the Prodigal Father. He is the one who gives to each of the protagonists – both the younger son and the older son, the second chance of forgiveness and grace. Our parable does end up with a hero – the younger son – not because he made such a success of his life. We know that he was a train wreck. He turns out to be the hero because he accepts in humility the second chance held out to him by the Father.
What Jesus is telling us here, it seems to me, is that you cannot go it alone even if you think you can. The world of the Prodigal Father is only built around second chances because all of us – whether we resemble the younger son or even the older son, have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The way to heroism in the world of the Prodigal Father is to swallow our pride and take that second chance or second chances. In the Christian dispensation we do not have heroes but saints – the ones who are humble enough to grab at the second chance offered them by the Father of second chances.