Western religions put a particular emphasis on the teachings of repentance, confession, and forgiveness. Christianity, for example, values these principles far more than it pays attention to the act of the sinner. All can be welcomed and all can be forgiven, no matter what the sin.
It is written in the Bible, that Jesus delivered a parable to a collection of Jewish leaders who criticized him for welcoming sinners to his table to break bread.
This is the story of “The return of the prodigal son”.
There once was an old father, living alone with two sons. The eldest had the desire to work hard and follow in his father’s footsteps. The younger, however, purely desired to lead a life of leisure and self-indulgence.
The second son, driven by his opulent desires, asked his father to provide him with the property that he would one day inherit. The old father consented to his son’s wish.
Only a few days later, the second son sold his lands, gathered all of his inheritance, and set out on a journey.
He refused to utilize the money through investments or business but instead chose to live recklessly and waste his money frivolously.
Unfortunately for the lavishly living son, just at the time when his money was spent, a famine began to spread throughout the region that he was residing in. He fell into poverty and had difficulty making ends meet let alone a living. He was near destitution, without his fine clothes, friends or anything to eat.
Now in extreme poverty, the prodigal son suddenly remembered his family, where he enjoyed his father’s love, hearty food, and warm clothing. Although he had to work hard at home to earn his keep, his father would never let him go even a day in hunger.
As he thought of home, he began to feel the shame of his behavior. He could hardly bear the thought of seeing his father again. He knew that he was not worthy of carrying his father’s name. He thought perhaps that he could work for his father as an employee. Thinking of this, the second son set off on his way home.
When he finally began to stagger towards his family home, his father saw him in the distance. With great understanding, love, and pity for the poor state of his son, the father ran to him and held him in an embrace.
Without waiting for the son’s explanation, the father hastily told the servants to bring clean clothes for his son and to kill a calf to celebrate his son’s return.
It was then that the eldest son came home from the field. Surprised by the sound of music and dancing, he asked a servant what was happening. Angered by the careless actions of his brother the elder son then refused to return home and join the celebrations. When his father pleaded with him to return, he said, “You see, for so many years I have served you, and I’ve never done anything against your orders, yet you have never killed a baby goat for me to celebrate with my friends. And what about your second son? After he swallowed up your wealth with prostitutes and recklessness, you still killed a fat calf to celebrate his homecoming!”
But the father replied, “Son, I am always with you, all that is mine is yours. But we have to celebrate, to be happy because your brother, who we thought had died, has survived, and is now found again.”
This cautionary tale has many layers of meaning. From the prodigal son, we learn to appreciate what we have, and to avoid the temptations of self-indulgence. From the older son, we learn the importance of patience and understanding in the combatants of jealousy and resentment. But the greatest lesson comes from the old father, who displayed tolerance and unconditional love, despite his child’s recklessness. His son may have been hopeless but he returned home humble and repentant. This is why his father could welcome him home with open arms. It is also the hidden commandment that Jesus gave to the Jewish leaders who questioned him.
A cardinal pillar of the Christian faith is the understanding that no man is without sin, it is the way of mankind, but through repentance, confession and acceptance any and all sin can be forgiven.
The measure of a man lies in his ability to admit when he is wrong, ask for forgiveness and better himself because of it.
(All Photos from Wikimedia Commons)