The real protagonist of the parable of the prodigal son is the elder brother. The text is begins with the Pharisees and scribes complaining because Jesus eats at the same table with sinners and welcomes them. The whole parable points to a man who remains outside parties, a man who cannot partake in the joy of the finding. He repeats twice: “He was lost and now is found.” That is what the Pharisees truly had to understand. The message that Jesus wants to transmit is: sin is death, perdition, it is not fun. It is not something one “cannot do”, as many Christians think.
The son claims his possession, he wants the portion of equity to which he is entitled. He does not want to be tied to his father’s properties. He leaves a few days later and goes to live in a distant place, where he can do whatever he wants. He begin to squander everything he has. In his father’s house was defended, here he is squandered. That is because the true goal of all things is love. In a context of love everything we have is preserved; in a context of what we do not love, we waste and lose. He begins to live dissolutely.
It is a precise term of Greek origin, which means “one who has no salvation, solution.” It designates the man who does not save himself. That is, a person who does not have anyone else besides himself and has to take care only of himself. It is as if he had an inner hole that never allows him to feel satisfied. He does things compulsively and does not stop until he squanders everything. He devours everything there is. It happens because loneliness has no bottom, it is an open abyss in one’s existence. It is sin. It is insatiable loneliness. In sin there is a restlessness that makes me devastate my belongings At that point, he finds himself a prisoner of the logic of that distant land, the land of loneliness. He pastures pigs, an animal considered impure by the Jews.
He want to eat the pods that are fed to pigs, but nobody gives him anything. That is what evil does. It leads us into the darkness, then leaves us alone. It does not nourish us. It is the work of the evil one, he leads us out of God’s area, then leaves us alone, without nourishment. Moreover, this man wants to eat like pigs. He has the same desires as animals. He has fallen from human condition. He wants to act like animals, but cannot do so because he is not an animal. He needs to connect with other people, people who would love him. But there is no one, he is alone. There are many unhappy people around us who have reached the point when they make their animal needs absolute in a devastating loneliness. That is when the process of salvation begins. “He returned to himself.”
Curiously, to go back to his Father, he first has to return to himself. He was not himself before, he was following things that do not exist, nonsense. He remembers immediately his Father’s house. He is not a slave, he does not eat with the pigs: he remembers his dignity as a son in his father’s house. But first he had to return to himself. That is the direction where man has to walk in order to start all over again, towards that truth where one remembers he is a son and is not abandoned. Salvation begins when man has an intuition about his own dignity. Since he went in, he will understand when he needs to go out. At first it is convenience, a serious, deep convenience: to find food. God welcomes us the way we are, poor. Then, slowly, he makes us decent and gives us a beautiful dress, puts a ring on our finger and offers us a party to join.