Some of Jesus’ parables are famous not just among Christians, but among people of various religions. The parable of the Prodigal Son is a good example. It talks about a person being lost and restored, about God’s mercy and how we can be resentful of God’s divine love for others.
Author Flor McCarthy summarizes this account in this way: “The story of the Prodigal Son is a story about hearts: selfish hearts and generous hearts, closed hearts and open hearts, cold hearts and warm hearts, broken hearts and joyful hearts, unrepentant hearts and repentant hearts, unforgiving hearts, resentful hearts and grateful hearts.”
The heart is a symbol for what is most personal about ourselves. Having our physical hearts examined is important for our health. We also need to be attentive to our spiritual hearts. The problem here is how to examine our hearts. When we have a physical heart examination, the doctor can listen to our heart. If something does not sound right, the doctor can see to it that we take additional tests to investigate the problem. Still, how do we examine our spiritual hearts?
Let us look at the hearts of both sons and their father in this parable to see if we can recognize something of ourselves in them. The younger son had a restless heart, never content with what he had. He wanted to break away from his family to experience what was on the other side of the fence. In doing so, he did not care about whom he hurt in the process. By asking for his inheritance from his father, he was, in a way, saying that he wished his father were dead. All he wanted was the money, not the priceless family relationship with his father. He allowed his restless heart to lead him away from what was the most precious thing he had in life.
We often repeat this story in our lives today. We allow the egotistical and selfish desires of our heart to take over. We fail to think about the consequences of our actions. We become consumed by the objects of our desires and do whatever we have to do to possess them.
A person with this kind of heart is blind to the needs of others. This kind of heart disease constricts the person so much that he or she cannot see beyond themselves. They have shrunk their world to the size of something very small and they cannot see anything outside themselves.
The older son’s heart disease was very different. Resentment seemed to have taken up a permanent home in his heart. When he saw how graciously and generously his father was treating his younger brother, he had no capacity for a joyful response. His focus was only on his own life.
The person with this kind of heart cannot enter the world of others. They can neither understand, nor do they wish to understand, the joys and sorrows of another. If they do not benefit personally from some situation, they do not want anyone else to benefit either.
This kind of diseased heart is angry whenever anyone else should receive special treatment. They become resentful when good things happen to others. Isn’t that a sad kind of heart disease? It is filled with envy, jealousy and small-mindedness that trap its owner in a very small cage.
Finally, we come to the heart of the Father. What a wonderfully healthy heart he had. He accepted both of his sons, though he did not agree with what they did. He loved them completely, showing understanding, acceptance, and most of all, a divine forgiveness. His heart was completely open.
This is the heart that God shows to each of us. Nothing we have ever done could keep us out of the heart of our loving and all-forgiving God. May we always know and experience God’s warm and loving heart. May we freely and fully enter this divine and loving heart.