The Prodigal Son                                                         Bartolome Esteban Murillo

205. The Parable of the Prodigal Son.

30th June 1945.

« John of Endor, come here with Me. I must speak to you » says Jesus looking out of the door.

The man hastens towards Jesus leaving the boy to whom he was explaining something. « What do You want to tell me, Master? » he asks.

« Come upstairs with Me. »

They go up to the terrace and they sit down in the most sheltered part, because the sun is already strong, although it is still morning. Jesus runs His eyes over the cultivated country, where day by day the corn is becoming golden and fruit is ripening on trees. He seems to be wishing to derive some thought from that vegetable metamorphosis.

« Listen, John. I think that Isaac is coming today to bring Me Johanan's peasants before they leave. I told Lazarus to lend Isaac a wagon to quicken their return and thus avoid a delay which would cause them to be punished. And Lazarus has agreed, because he does everything I tell him. But I want something else from you. I have here a sum of money given to Me by a person for the poor of the Lord. Usually one of My apostles is responsible for keeping the money and giving alms. Generally it is Judas of Kerioth; sometimes one of the others. But Judas is not here. And I do not want the others to know what I want to do. I would not have told Judas either. You will do it, in My name… »

« I, my Lord?… I?… Oh! I am not worthy!… »

« You must accustom yourself to working in My name. Is that not why you came? »

« Yes, but I thought I had to work to rebuild my poor soul. »

« And I will give you the means. Against what did you sin? Against Mercy and Love. You demolished your soul by means of hatred. You will rebuild it through love and mercy. I will give you the material. I will make use of you especially for deeds of mercy and love. You are capable also of curing, and of speaking. So you are qualified to take care of physical and moral miseries and you are capable of doing it. You will start with this action. Here is the purse. You will give it to Micah and his friends. Divide it into equal parts. But divide it as I will tell you. Make ten parts and give four to Micah, one for himself and one each to Saul, Joel and Isaiah. Give the other six to Micah with instructions to give them to Jabez' old father, for himself and his companions. They will thus be able to have some comfort. »

« All right. But what shall I tell them to justify it? »

« Say: "This is to remind you to pray for a soul that is redeeming itself ". »

« But they may think that it is I! It is not fair! »

« Why? Do you not want to redeem yourself? »

« It is not fair that they should think that I am the donor. »

« Never mind, do as I tell you. »

« I will obey… but at least let me give something as well. In any case… now I do not need anything any more. I do not buy books and I have no poultry to feed. I am satisfied with very little. Take this, Master. I am keeping a minimum for my sandal expenses… » and from a purse attached to his belt he takes out some coins which he adds to Jesus' money.

« May God bless you for your mercy… John, before long we shall be parting, because you will be going with Isaac. »

« I am sorry about that, Master. But I will obey. »

« I am sorry as well to send you away. But I need itinerant disciples so badly. I am no longer sufficient. I will soon be sending the apostles and then the disciples. And you will do a lot of good. I will keep you for special missions. In the meantime you will become formed with Isaac. He is so good and the Spirit of God has really instructed him during his long disease. And he is the man who has always forgiven everything… On the other hand, the fact that we have to part does not mean that we shall never meet again. We shall often meet, and every time we are together, I will speak just for you, remember that… »

John bends very low, he hides his face in his hands, bursts into bitter tears and moans: « Oh! Then tell me at once something to persuade me that I have been forgiven… that I can serve God… If You knew how I see my soul, now that the smoke of hatred has vanished… and how I think of God… »

« I know, do not weep. Be humble, but do not be disheartened. Disheartenment is still pride. Be humble, that is all. Cheer up, do not weep… »

John of Endor slowly calms down…

When Jesus sees that he has become calm, He says: « Come, let us go under that thicket of apple-trees and gather our companions and the women. I will speak to everybody, but I will tell you how God loves you. »

They go down, assembling the others as they proceed, and they all sit down in a circle in the shade of the apple orchard. Also Lazarus, who was speaking to the Zealot, joins the company. They are about twenty people in all.

« Listen. It is a beautiful parable that will guide you with its light in many cases.

A man had two sons. The elder was a serious, affectionate, obedient worker. The younger was more intelligent than his brother who was actually somewhat dull and preferred to be guided rather than tire himself taking decisions by himself, but he was also rebellious, absent-minded, fond of luxury, pleasure loving, a squanderer and idle. Intelligence is a great gift of God. But it is a gift to be used wisely. Otherwise it is like certain medicines that, when taken in the wrong way, kill instead of curing. His father, as it was his right and duty, used to recall him to a more sensible life. But it was all in vain, the only result was that he answered back and became more obstinate in his wicked ideas.

Finally one day, after a fiercer quarrel, the younger son said: "Give me my part of the estate. So I will no longer hear your reproaches and my brother's complaints. Let each have his own and no more about it". "Be careful" replied the father, "because you will soon be ruined. What will you do then? Consider that I will not be unfair to favor you and I will not take a farthing off your brother to give it to you". "I will not ask you for anything. You may be sure. Give me my part".

The father had the estate and valuables assessed, and since money and jewels were worth as much as the real estate, he gave the elder brother the fields and vineyards, the herds and olivetrees, and the younger one the money and jewels, which the young man changed immediately into money. And after doing that in a few days, he went to a distant country where he lived like a lord, squandering all his money on a life of debauchery, making people believe that he was the son of a king, because he was ashamed to admit that he was a countryman and thus he disowned his father. Banquets, friends, women, robes, wines, games… he led a loose life. He soon saw that his money was coming to an end and that poverty was in sight. And to make matters worse, the country experienced a severe famine, which compelled him to spend his last penny. He would have liked to go back to his father. But he was proud and decided not to. So he went to a wealthy man of the country, a friend of his in his happy days, and he begged him saying: "Take me among your servants, remembering the days when you enjoyed my wealth". See how foolish man is! He prefers the lash of a master rather than say to his father: "Forgive me. I made a mistake!". The young man had learned many useless things with his bright intelligence, but he did not want to learn the saying of Ecclesiasticus: "How ill-famed is he who deserts his father and how accursed of the Lord is whoever angers his mother".  He was intelligent, but not wise.

The man to whom he had applied, in exchange for the grand time he had enjoyed with the foolish young man, sent him to look after his pigs, because it was a pagan country and there were many pigs. So he was sent to pasture the herds of pigs in the farm. Filthy, in rags, stinking and starving - food in fact was scarce for all the servants and particularly for the lowest ones and he, a foreign ridiculed herdsman of pigs was considered such - he saw the pigs glut themselves with acorns and sighed: "I wish I could fill my stomach with this fruit! But they are too bitter! Not even starvation can make them palatable". And he wept remembering the sumptuous banquets when he acted the "grand seigneur" only a short while before, laughing, singing, dancing… and then he would think of the honest substantial meals at his far away home, of the portions his father used to make impartially for everybody, keeping for himself the smallest one, happy to see the healthy appetite of his sons… and he remembered the helpings his just father gave the servants and he sighed: "My father's servants, even the lowest, have plenty bread… and I am dying here of starvation… A long meditation, a long struggle to subdue his pride…

At last the day came, when his humility and wisdom revived and he got up and said: "I will go back to my father! This pride of mine is silly, as it deprives me of my freedom. And why? Why should I suffer in my body and even more in my heart when I can be forgiven and receive comfort? I will go back to my father. That is settled. And what shall I say to him? What has matured in my heart here, in this abjection, in this filth, suffering the pangs of hunger! I will say to him: 'Father, I have sinned against Heaven and against you, I am no longer worthy of being called your son; treat me therefore as the least of your servants, but bear me to stay under your roof. That I may see you moving about… ' I cannot say to him: '… because I love you'. He would not believe me. But my behaviour will tell him and he will understand and before dying he will bless me once again… Oh! I hope so. Because my father loves me". And when he went back to town in the evening he gave up his job and begging along the way he went back home. And he saw his father's fields… and the house… and his father superintending the work… he was old, emaciated by grief but always kind and good… The guilty son seeing that ruin caused by him stopped frightened… but the father, looking round, saw him and ran to meet him, because he was still far away. And when he reached him, he threw his arms round his neck and kissed him. Only the father had recognised his son in the dejected beggar and he was the only one to be moved with love.

The son, clasped in his father's arms, with his head resting on his father's shoulder, whispered sobbing: "Father, let me throw myself at your feet". "No, son! Not at my feet. Rest on my heart, which has suffered so much because of your absence, and now needs to revive feeling your warmth on my chest". And the son, crying louder, said: "Oh! father! I have sinned against Heaven and against you, I am no longer worthy to be called son by you. But allow me to live among your servants, under your roof, seeing you, eating your bread, serving you, and you will be the breath of my life. Every time I take a morsel of bread, every time you breathe, my heart, which is so corrupt, will change and I will become honest… "

But the father, embracing him all the time, led him towards the servants, who had gathered together watching in the distance and he said to them: "Quick, bring here the best robe, and basins of scented water, and wash him, spray him with scents, clothe him, put new sandals on his feet and a ring on his finger. Bring a fattened calf and kill it. And prepare a banquet. Because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life, he was lost and has been found. Now I want him to find once again the innocent love of a child, and my love and the celebration of the household for his return must give it to him. He must realise that he is always my dear last-born child, as he was in his childhood a long time ago, when he used to toddle beside me making me happy with his smile and his prattling". And the servants did so.

The elder son was out in the country and he did not know anything until his return. Coming towards the house in the evening, he saw that it was brightly lighted and he heard the sound of instruments and dancing coming from it. He called a servant who was bustling about and asked him: "What is happening?". And the servant replied: "Your brother has come back! Your father had the fattened calf killed because his son has come back to him safe and cured of his wickedness and he ordered a celebration. They are only waiting for you to start". But the first-born was angry because he thought that such a feast for his younger brother was unfair, as he was not only younger, but had been also wicked. And he did not want to go in, on the contrary he was about to walk away from the house.

But the father, informed of the situation, ran out and reached him and endeavoured to convince him, begging him not to spoil his joy. The elder brother replied to his father: "And you expect me not to be upset? You are unfair to your first-born and you hold him in contempt. I have served you since I was able to work, and I have done that for many years. I have never disobeyed an order of yours, not even a simple desire. I have always been near you, and I have loved you for two, to make you recover from the wound inflicted on you by my brother. And you have not given me even a lamb to have a feast with my friends. You are now honouring my brother and you have killed the best calf for him, who offended and abandoned you, and has been a lazy spendthrift, and has now come back because he was driven by starvation. It is really worth while being a hard honest worker! You should not have done that to me".

The father then, clasping him to his heart, said: "Son! Can you believe that I do not love you, because I do not celebrate your behaviour? Your deeds are holy by themselves, and the world praises you because of them. Your brother, instead, needs to be rehabilitated both in the eyes of the world and in his own. And do you think that I do not love you because I give you no visible prize? But day and night, in every moment of my life, you are present to my heart, and I bless you every moment. You have the continuous reward of being always with me, and what is mine is yours. But it was fair to have a feast, a celebration for your brother who was dead and has come back to good life, was lost and has come back to our love". And the first-born yielded to his father's desire.

And that, My friends, is what happens in the House of the Father. And whoever feels that he is like the younger son of the parable, must believe that if he imitates him in going to the Father, the Father will say to him: "Not at My feet. But rest on My heart, which has suffered because of your absence and is now happy because you have come back". Who is in the situation of the first-born and without any fault against the Father, must not be jealous of the Father's joy, but must take part in it and love the redeemed brother.

That is all. You, John of Endor and you, Lazarus, please remain here. The others can go and set the tables. We shall not be long. » They all withdraw. When Jesus, Lazarus and John are alone, Jesus says to them: « That is what will happen to the dear soul you are awaiting, Lazarus, and that is what is happening to yours, John. God's bounty has no limit… »

… The apostles, together with Mary and the women, go towards the house, preceded by Marjiam who runs ahead frisking. But he soon comes back and takes Mary by the hand saying to Her: « Come with me. I have something to tell you, when we are alone. » And Mary follows him. They turn towards a well, situated in a corner of the little yard, and completely covered by a thick bower that from the ground climbs up towards the terrace forming an arch. Behind it, there is the Iscariot.

« Judas, what do you want?  Go, Marjiam… Speak. What do you want? »

« I am guilty… I dare not go to the Master or face my companions… Help me… »

« I will help you. But do you not consider how much grief you cause? My Son wept because of you. And your companions suffered. But come. No one will say anything to you. And, if you can, do not commit the same sins again. It is shameful for a man and a sacrilege against the Word of God. »

« And will You forgive me, Mother? »

« I?  I count for nothing as far as you are concerned, since you think you are so great.  I am the least of the servants of the Lord.  How can you worry about Me, if you feel no pity for My Son? »

« Because I have a mother as well, and if You forgive me, I will feel as if she did, too. »

« She does not know about this fault of yours. »

« But she made me swear I would be good to the Master. I am a perjurer. I can feel the soul of my mother reproaching me. »

« You feel that, do you? But do you not feel the lament and the reproach of the Father and of His Word? You are disgraceful, Judas! You cause grief to yourself and to those who love you. »

Mary is very grave and sad.  She speaks without bitterness but with much gravity. Judas weeps.

« Do not weep. Improve yourself. Come » and She takes him by the hand and enters the kitchen.

Everybody is filled with astonishment.  But Mary wards off any possible uncharitable remark.   She says: « Judas has come back. Behave as the first-born did after his father's speech. John, go and tell Jesus. »

John of Zebedee runs away.  Silence hangs heavy on the kitchen… Then Judas says: « Forgive me, all of you, and you, Simon, first of all. Your heart is so paternal. And I am an orphan, too. »

« Yes, I forgive you. Please, say no more about it. We are brothers… and I do not like these ups and downs of forgiveness and relapses. They humiliate both the offender and the forgiver.  Here is Jesus.  Go to Him.  That's all. »

Judas goes away and Peter, not being able to do anything else, starts chopping wood with keen impetuosity…


Written by Maria Valtorta.  From POEM OF THE MAN-GOD, Volume 2, Chapter 205.

Copyright 1987 by Centro Editoriale Valtortiano, Isola del Liri, Italy.  All rights reserved in all countries.


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