The enduring relevance of parables
Christ spoke in parables. The Gospels are full of stories which the Lord used in order to convey a particular message. Sadly, some parables are hardly referred to today except when they form part of the liturgical readings during Mass. It is sometimes felt that these are unsuitable to our present day mentality, are certainly not politically correct and even embarrassing sometimes. They might make some members of the congregation uneasy with their explicit message that God's Divine justice still exists after all and that at the end of our life we have to give account not only for the actions we have done, but also for what we should have done and did not.
The parable of the rich man who thought that his mind was at rest because he intended building numerous barns for his plentiful crops and was told by God, "Fool! This very night your soul is required of you" (Luke 12: 16-21) springs readily to mind. By showing us also the fate that awaited another rich man who ignored the plight of the sore-covered beggar, Lazarus, who desired to eat what fell from the table during the former's daily feasts, Jesus makes it perfectly clear that God's justice is not to be trifled with.
One of the most beautiful and most popular of the parables is that of the prodigal son. It is the tale of a young man who, like so many before and after him, thought that the "world outside" would be one of enduring happiness and freedom. Alas, reality soon struck home and he found himself destitute and desperate. This parable is the story of the father's enduring love and compassionate understanding for his son's misdeeds.
Unfortunately, this much quoted tale is often misinterpreted and its message twisted in such a manner that it is emptied of its true significance. The parable of the prodigal son has become for many of us a sort of licence or permit to go on with our life, no matter how sinful it is, because ultimately God's mercy and love, as in the case of the father in the parable, will always be there to sort of bail us out.
This is surely not what Jesus intended in relating this story. The father is the central figure and his love and forgiving attitude towards his son is beyond doubt. However, it was the son's realisation that what he had done was wrong that brought to fulfilment the father's feelings towards him. In other words, if the son had not sincerely repented for his behaviour, his father's love and willingness to forgive would have been of no avail to him.
Moreover, it should also be remembered that the father remained in his house and did not leave everything to go and look for him.
He stayed to take care of his household, patiently waiting for his wayward son to return. In this manner he was respecting his son's free will, believing that going out to search for him and dragging him back was not right and would have made no sense whatsoever. In the same manner God, who is mirrored in the father of the parable, will not force himself on us, respecting our freedom and, while offering us His love and forgiveness, leaves us utterly free to accept or not. He will take us back and prepare a "great feast" for us only if we are willing to repent from our sins and turn towards Him in humility. On the cross Christ offered words of hope for a heavenly life only to the repentant thief but none to the stubborn and unrepentant one on His left.
Therefore, it is utterly wrong, as so many of us do today, to insist that God's mercy and compassion will somehow see us through even though we have not the slightest intention to change our ways and sincerely ask for forgiveness. Much to our misfortune, God's mercy and His justice are inseparable and when we refuse to do what the prodigal son did, that is to return repentant to the father's house, we leave God with no option but for Him to exercise His divine justice which is certainly merciful, but just nonetheless.