A prodigal God

Published July 11, 2020, 10:59 PM

by Fr. Rolando V. De La Rosa, OP



In today’s gospel reading, God is pictured as a farmer who sows seeds with no regard for the places where these may fall. God does not fit into our idea of a prudent farmer because His method of planting appears wasteful. Since He scatters the seeds not only on good soil but also on the paved road, the rocky soil, and thorny ground, only one-fourth of the total number of seeds take root, grow, and bear abundant fruits.

            This wasteful way of planting reveals to us how Jesus understands God’s generosity. He sows His saving Word to us regardless of our receptivity. Yes, He wants us to welcome His Word and renew us. We read in the first reading: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth… so my word will not return to me empty but will accomplish the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11). But God does not allow His generosity to be limited by His expectations. He is generous to the point of being prodigal.

            This reminds me of another parable of Jesus usually titled “The Prodigal Son.”  It is about a son who squanders his inheritance on a life of vice and sensuality. When the son finds himself destitute, he takes the job of feeding pigs. He decides to return to his father and ask for forgiveness. When the father, who has been watching and waiting, sees his son from afar, he goes out of the house to welcome him with open arms of compassion. He orders the servant to prepare an enormous feast in celebration of his son’s return.

            The son’s wastefulness is no match to that of his father. That is why many call this parable “The Prodigal Father.” For, if the son has been recklessly extravagant with his money and possessions, his father is even more wasteful in lavishing his son with forgiveness.

            That’s a reality check for many of us who wrongly think that God is stingy or overly frugal with His love and that He expects us to constantly do something good to deserve it.  The parables of the sower and the prodigal father remind us that God’s generosity is not limited by how we respond to His initiative.” For he makes the sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45)

            That’s good news. There is no limit to God’s patience and generosity. The bad news is, we only have a very short lifespan, so the opportunities that we have to listen to His Word and receive His love are not infinite.

            Nothing is more tragic than a missed opportunity. I am reminded of the Filipino word that fittingly describes such a tragedy: “Sayang.” We utter this word when a hoped-for possibility does not materialize; or when we are disappointed in someone who fails to deliver what we expect; or when we mourn the loss of a precious possession; or when we realize that we have wasted a golden opportunity. Its English equivalents—“What a waste,” “What a pity,” “Too bad,” or “Oh dear!” — hardly express the intensity and depth of anguish, regret, disappointment, and sense of loss that we feel when we utter “Sayang!”

             “Sayang” brings to mind the image of a man with eyes downcast, wondering if his life today might have been better had he decided or acted differently in the past. As one poet puts it: “Of all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been.’”