The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) can be contextually interpreted in view of today's conflicts and indeed in every generation and family. Traditionally the first son was the most important child in the family. He would carry the family’s progeny for generations. The ancients, like us, wanted to be eternal. A father would become eternal through his son. And his son too would become eternal through his own son. The first son is the first fruit of his parents and this is why he was dedicated to God by his parents in the Jewish tradition and most other traditions of the world.
Professor René Girard, a contemporary brilliant anthropologist, devised his Mimetic Rivalry Theory (which is now part of advanced research in universities), based on imitation that creates rivalry. If I and my brother love the same girl with passion, then we will imitate each other and eventually fall in rivalry! If I find that my brother took his share of inheritance and thought of himself alone, I would imitate him for the possession of what I believe is my money (which is scarce today) and psychologically at least I would wish to ruin him rather than receive him if he comes back in need of my help! I can understand why the elder brother was angry when his younger brother was given a welcome of a hero by his father. If I condemn the elder brother, I would be condemning the vast majority of humanity and of Catholics, including me, indeed. Christians today who think that because they follow the gospel are better than Non-Christians are acting like the elder brother.
If I follow Girard’s thought to the end, I will find rivalry by imitation where competition forces small businesses to lower their prices and thus lay off their employees. The large corporations do more harm to society by pressing consumers through sophisticated marketing tools to buy their products at the expense of small business and indeed be more efficient by using automated technology rather than human resources thus increasingly causing higher unemployment. For a fair society we need to understand reciprocity, equity, and collaboration as inherently needed for the human survival. A good book to read is Professor Peter Corning’s “The Fair Society” published in 2011.
Let’s now have a look at the lost son, a man who wasted all his money on “fun stuff” and prostitutes, then found himself needing to survive. His selfish conclusion was to go back to his father and only utter a few words of repentance in hope that his father will give him to eat in return for letting him work as one of the servants. I also find this son’s behaviour typical of any natural reaction to hardship. This is why people return to God only when they are faced with death, in hardship or in terminal sickness.
This is probably one of the reasons for the recent revolutions in the Middle East. Division is the result of revolutions. This is why I urgently called Christians to reunite under the leadership of the Pope of Rome. See http://www.todayquestions.blogspot.com/2009/10/why-christians-should-be-catholic.html
The only shocking action in the Parable is that of the father. Christ reveals the tender love of God, the Father of all, who not only welcomes his lost son but runs not minding his old age to meet him midway and kiss him. That would have been enough for the son to be reassured of the love he has in his father’s heart. The old father does not wait for his lost son, now found, to complete the sentence of asking forgiveness and immediately orders his servants to cloth him with the best and celebrate his return. It is the story of God's providence and love throughout history who rather than damning the sinful of his creation, He dared to look for the lost ones and run after them until they said yes to His abiding love.
The idea of God's universal love is progressively revealed in the Old Testament and clearly found in the teachings of Christ our God and Saviour and, following him, St. Paul, and St. John in the New Testament. The same idea runs through the Patristic writings including those of Origen and St. Augustine, and in Medieval theology in St. Bernard of Clairvaux and others as well as in St. Thomas Aquinas and beyond.
These works have been retrieved by the Jesuit theologian Henri de Lubac (and his students such as Jean Daniélou) whose movement of “Ressourcement” (i.e. bringing the sources) and writings since the 1940s contributed to the development of thought and drafting of the documents of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), and influenced Yves Congar, Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), Blessed John Paul II, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Karl Rahner and many great contemporary Catholic theologians.
God loves all and works in all through his Spirit, the Spirit of his Son throughout the ages. It is up to us, Christians, to respond to the grace of God, spread the truth of Christ, and show the love we receive without merit by our actions and thoughts, in family, work, church, and society as did the saints; for although God offers salvation freely, only in cooperating with his grace can it be realized in us.
God is at work since the beginning of history; for God wills that fallen humans be saved and have eternal life even though it cost him his life on the cross at the hands of his beloved creatures. He always forgives not only on the cross but also in his own Resurrection. See how he responded to Thomas who doubted. And in the long history of humanity, God worked in civilizations as for example converting the hard Gothic tribes to accept the Christian faith and become more human in the 5th century; and in a harder lesson for Christians, having seen Christian divisions in the 5th century, he did not abandon them - God worked in the Assyrian Dyophysite Christians who separated from the Catholic Church after the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD and the Syrian Miaphysite Christians who separated from the Catholic Church after the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. In spite of their afflictions, these faithful in Syria and Iraq lived with the Islamic conquests in the 7th century and produced such giants as St. John of Damascus whose writings greatly influenced the Latin Catholics in Medieval Europe. They also translated the Greek philosophy of Aristotle to Arabic. Arabs took these translations and studied Aristotle whose writings then reached the Moors, an Islamic civilization in Spain, and there they were translated again to Latin. These works now in Latin fell in the hands of St. Thomas Aquinas. Saint Thomas used Aristotle to build a renewed Christian philosophy that opened the way to exploration of the natural world which developed in the scientific age.
In spite of the conflicts and sins so abundant in the world, God still loves us in Christ. Indeed, everyone who is ever saved is saved through Christ alone, and according to Dominus Iesus, published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith in 2000 “The Church is the ‘universal sacrament of salvation’ (Vatican II, Lumen gentium 48), since, united always in a mysterious way to the Saviour Jesus Christ, her Head, and subordinated to him, she has, in God's plan, an indispensable relationship with the salvation of every human being. For those who are not formally and visibly members of the Church, ‘salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church, but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit’ (John Paul II, Redemptoris missio, 10) it has a relationship with the Church, which ‘according to the plan of the Father, has her origin in the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit’(Vatican II, Ad gentes, 2)”.
May we all listen to that voice that moved the Prodigal Son into his father’s arms and trust in his love.