The finest story ever written

    March 2, 2024

    If, as the title of the famous 1965 movie boasts, the story of Jesus life is the “Greatest Story Ever Told,” then Jesus’ parable of the “Prodigal Son” in today’s gospel is, in the estimation of no less a literary luminary than Charles Dickens, “the finest story ever written,” detailing as it does a tale of two sons — one who was lost when away from home and the other lost within the home — and the forgiving father who loves them both.

    So often — and understandably so — the focus of the story is on the younger, profligate child and the enormous compassion his father shows upon the boy’s return. Yet for me it is the cautionary tale of the older sibling who played by the rules — but with the wrong heart — that lay bare some powerful lessons on the kind of mercy that God calls us to show towards our brothers and sisters in need today.

    Sadly, I have read recent media accounts and blog posts calling to task Catholic and other charitable organizations for providing humanitarian aid — including food, clothing, housing and healthcare — to those on the margins who, because of some actions they may have taken, or their status, or their identity, are considered “undeserving” of such assistance. Reflected in several of these accounts is a seeming belief that if you haven’t played by the all the rules throughout your life, then the harsh vicissitudes of fortune are both earned and deserved.

    And yet, in the parable we read today, Jesus provides us with an alternative vision of how the world should work; one that is based upon the type of mercy the Father shows and which we are called to emulate: one of charity, one of forgiveness, and one of deep pity for those who are lost and on the margins, in whom God rejoices when they are found and cared for.

    Tom Dobbins Jr. is the Director of Social and Parish Engagement and Interim Director of the Department of Public & Community Engagement for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, a Producer for the “JustLove” radio broadcast on Sirius/XM’s Catholic Channel 129, and a Board Member of the Roundtable Association of Catholic Diocesan Social Action Directors.

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