One of the most famous stories (parable) in the Bible is the parable of the Prodigal Son, where the younger son took his share of father’s property, lived a lavish life and came back to the father’s house to be treated as a servant. Then we saw the generosity of the father in the way he treats him. We also have self-righteous, law abiding elder son angry at the father’s treatment of the younger son.
Prodigal is defined as ‘spending money or using resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant’. The younger son was a prodigal till he had the share of father’s money. After that he became a beggar. Then he was looking to others so that they will show some mercy or compassion to him.
Fr Tony D’Mello, SJ (and many others.. I don’t know who used it first) used to call this parable as the parable of the prodigal father. Yes, the father was too generous with his money in the beginning. But much much more than that, he was generous with his love when the son comes back. He is not looking for an explanation or justification from his son. In worldly standards, he was too foolish. To put it straight, the hero of the story is not the younger son, but the father. He is always there for us; the new title is being used and it adds a new flavour to our understanding.
If I add one more layer of thought to the same story, God’s nature is mercy or love. (Jesus says be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect; be merciful as heavenly father is merciful; God is love). Thus compassion, love, mercy are the nature of God. When they are the nature, God can’t show anything else, but love, mercy, compassion. In that sense, God is never generous with love and mercy. He is just that and he can give nothing else.
When I say all this, the character I can equate the most is the elder son (I too have a younger brother, surely he is more generous to parents…). But that self-righteous attitude, the attitude which is so irritating exists.