As I have read the parable of the prodigal son and have learned the context as well as the exegesis, I could not help but identify myself with the prodigal son. It is because like the prodigal son, I, too have experienced God’s mercy and unconditional love through my family, friends and fellow human beings.
Like the father in the story who granted the wish of his son, my father too in many times allowed me to do the things I wanted to do. I sense that he trusted me and made me realize to learn if ever I made mistakes. It is said that the prodigal son wasted his money until he had nothing left, and made his self-serving plan to go home.
The painful road back then is endured for one reason: he is hungry. The bottom line is, “I am dying of hunger!” And the prodigal had a prepared confession and it reads, “I have sinned against heaven and before you” and this is (understandably) usually seen to indicate heartfelt repentance. But it is said that this confession is a quotation from the pharaoh when he tries to manipulate Moses into lifting the plagues. After the ninth plague, Pharaoh finally agrees to meet Moses, and when Moses appears, Pharaoh gives the same speech. Everyone knows that Pharaoh is not repenting. He is simply trying to bend Moses to his will. In the prodigal son’s case, none of the translators/commentators saw the Prodigal in the far country as repentant. Kumbaga nagmemorize lang siya ng linya.
I have also made decisions to be with my family not only because I felt guilty for not being a good son but because of some self-serving plans. Like the father who forgave his son, my father [who stood as both a father and mother in our family] welcomed me. Yes, he may not be like the father in the story who received his son unconditionally for he usually asks so many questions and sometimes would even scold me but I realized that he did it for my own good.
My family is residing in Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat – a place where majority of the residents are Muslims. I have talked to a priest and he shared to me that he had read an article written by Kenneth E. Bailey, an active lecturer on Middle Eastern New Testament Studies and professor emeritus of New Testament at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute, Jerusalem. In his reading Bailey wrote that during Middle Ages, Muslim scholars loved to quote the parable of the Prodigal Son as evidence against the Christians.
The reason was that, in the story, there is no mediator between the father and the son. The son who leaves his father (God) simply returns home and his father accepts him. So there is a re-union without the need or use of any mediation. The son returned home and he needed no incarnation and no atonement, no cross and no salvation. Ergo: Jesus is a good Muslim.
What he shared interests me given that I came from a Muslim area and our Muslim brothers and sisters always tell us that Jesus is one of their prophets. We have learned that the context of the parable of the prodigal son is Jewish and we are reading it now as Filipinos. Here we could say that despite the differences in culture and religion, one would still find what stands as common among believers – the belief in God as merciful who loves everyone.
Some Bible scholars call this gospel text as “The Parable of the Prodigal Son,” others consider it as “The Story of the Pursuing Father” or “The Story of the Running Father.” But all of them agree that its central message is the unconditional love and mercy of God.
The Pursuing Father is our God who generously gives his love, his forgiveness and mercy to us. Here, love of God as shown by the father cannot be contained in just one culture. Culture cannot exhaust love. No human constructs can exhaustively determine this love of God.