XLIII. Continuing with the parable of the Two Brothers, the younger son “went into himself,” Luke says, and comes to his senses in a kind of conversion. Yet even though this is motivated by self-interest, the son naturally turns to his father. The truth of his identity is found in that relationship, and not in total independence.
The father is watching for the younger son … how many days! … and sees him from far off. He runs to meet him, and does not even let him finish his confession and apology before calling for a great feast of joy. Here, Jesus says with such rich foreshadowing: “This son of mine was dead, and has come back to life; he was lost, and is now found.” It forecasts his own resurrection and the reconciliation won by the Good Shepherd who has come to seek what was lost.
Jesus’ portrayal of the father’s actions here is rooted in Hosea, chapter 11. There, despite the rebellion of his children, God’s saving love acts because “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? … my compassion grows warm and tender … I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst” (Hosea 11:8f). Precisely because God does not experience hurt feelings and desire for vengeance – all too human failings – God’s mercy is wholly gratuitous and divine love is not determined by human calculations. In the background is the assertion of I John: “God is love.”
Also implied here is another theme prominent in John’s Gospel, the unity of Father and Son: “The Son does what he sees the Father doing” (John 5:19); “the Father who dwells in me is doing his works” (John 14:10); “the Father and I are one” (John 10:30). So in this parable, Jesus is explaining why He welcomes sinners and forgives, scandalous though it is to his contemporaries: “this is the way God is, and I am God, the Holy One in your midst.”