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The prodigal son: The heart of dialogue

A clear study and meditation on the 15th chapter of the gospel of Luke presents dialogue in different forms. Dialogue leads to choices whether good or bad. Freedom to choose may lead to healing, reconciliation and salvation. However, making a wrong choice can lead to pains and misery.

In the story of the prodigal son, we can identify intra-personal dialogue in the life of the prodigal son, the father and the elder brother of the prodigal son. The characters are not given proper names because the parable applies to the generic person. In the same parable, we discover intra-personal dialogue, inter-personal dialogue and intra-family dialogue in the prodigal son, the father and the elder brother. 
 “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them” (Luke 15, 11-12). Perhaps the prodigal son did not trust the elder brother.
It is also possible to postulate that the prodigal son wanted the father dead or was feeling insecure should the father die. Whatever may be the reason, the fact remains that the prodigal son made a demand. In this first episode of the dialogue, the father did not offer any counsel as regards the implications and unforeseen consequences of the demand of the younger son. As it were, the father simply obeyed. It appears that the father knew the children well and trusted that the prodigal son might one day come to his senses so he divided his property between them (Luke 15,  12).
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything ((Luke 15, 13-16).
Suffering can lead to introspection, self discovery, examination of conscience and self-awareness. Intra-personal dialogue is a process of personal debriefing. It takes a good heart and a well trained conscience to rediscover the self in humility. “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants. So he got up and went to his father” (Luke 15, 17-18).
It is difficult for parents to erase their children completely from their minds. It appears that the father was praying and longing to see the prodigal son back again. This is reflected in the way and manner he received the prodigal son back home.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate (Luke 15, 19-24).
It is interesting that the father did not scold the prodigal son. He did not disown the boy. Here the lesson is that the human person is more important than any material acquisition. The father ignored all forms of jurisprudence. He allowed love to take the place of law. The return of the son was not the time to apportion blames; it was the time to celebrate.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
“The elder brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found’” (Luke 15, 25-32).
Interesting, can we say here that the elder brother was jealous? Perhaps he had a legal mind and wants the prodigal son punished for his crime in the name of justice.  In this parable, we can locate the cross in the way and manner God loves his creatures. If God were to mark our guilt, no one would survive.
However, God requires our interior conversion through intra-personal dialogue for him to restore us back to his love. The repentance of the prodigal son in a distanced country was enough to win back his father’s love. The father gave the prodigal son “shoes”, a sign of acceptance as a son and not a hired servant. He was given a “robe”, a sign that he remains a precious son. He was given a “ring”, a sign of royalty and freedom.
This act of love, mercy and compassion of God was demonstrated by Jesus when he protected the woman caught in adultery against the crowd who wanted to stone her.  According to Dr. Kenneth Bailey who lived and taught in the Middle East for over 40 years, Jesus’ costly demonstration of unexpected love has the power to change the heart forever.
Can we locate the action of the federal government of Nigeria in the state pardon recently granted to some Nigerians in the context of the prodigal son? Could it be true that this people granted pardon have come to their senses and have resolved to be better citizens of Nigeria with a sincere change of attitude?
While some people clamour for the law to take its course, we may still remember the saying of William Shakespeare that “there is no act to find the mind construction on the face”.
Father (Prof) Omonokhua is the Director of Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja, and Consultor for the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims (CRRM), Vatican City

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