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Molly CahillMarch 11, 2023
A painting titled "The Return of the Prodigal Son," by an unknown artist, is pictured at the Museum of Biblical Art in New York. The prodigal son said, "I no longer deserve to be called your son" (Lk 15:19). (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

A Reflection for Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

Find today’s readings here.

Coming to his senses he thought,
'How many of my father's hired workers
have more than enough food to eat,
but here am I, dying from hunger.
I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him,
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
I no longer deserve to be called your son;
treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’
So he got up and went back to his father. (Lk 15:17-20)

The prodigal son is stronger than I am. He knew when to ask for help.

There’s a lot to chew on in this very well-known parable: the extravagant younger son, the rule-following (and ultimately resentful) older brother, the loving and merciful father. But the turning point that hit me while reading it this time around was that moment of clarity when the son, finding himself hungry and destitute and alone, decides to admit his mistakes and go home.

Imagine where this story might have gone if the prodigal son’s inner monologue was instead something like: “My father’s workers live a better life than I do. But I’m so ashamed of how badly I messed up, and surely my brother and father will take one look at me and say ‘I told you so’ if I go home. I guess I just have to figure it out by myself and live with my shame. It must be what I deserve.”

I never thought I’d say this but… I need to try to be more like the prodigal son.

I have certainly spoken this way to myself much more often after I’ve made mistakes than I’ve ever had the prodigal son’s willingness to turn around, own where I went wrong and ask for the help I need to get out of my predicament. But when we try to handle our problems alone, they always seem to get bigger. Without the warmth and generosity of his father, the prodigal son would have stayed starving and lonely. He could have died.

How beautiful it is that he didn’t hold onto his pride. How beautiful it is that he had the kind of relationship with his father that made him want to go home in a time of need. Did he know that his father would welcome him back, not just with open arms but with what sounds like the party of the century? Whether or not he did, there’s no indication that he expected anger or judgment; he seemed to know that, whatever the specifics looked like, his father was a person who would lead with mercy.

This is a wake-up call to those of us who are more likely to suffer in silence, believing that that makes us stronger somehow. Our lives flourish only when we reach out in times of need, to family and to friends and to God.

I never thought I’d say this but… I need to try to be more like the prodigal son.

More: Scripture

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