We are all familiar with the story of the Prodigal Son, and we have heard the different lessons people have drawn from it. I would like to go into two things: first, the nature of the boy’s sins; and secondly the nature of his repentance.
To get at the nature of the boy’s sin it helps to know something about how those Jewish people understood property rights. From ancient times the fields that belonged to each of the tribes and each of the clans had to stay with that tribe and clan. The same was true for the families within a clan. Fields could only be sold to the nearest relative.
When a father disposed of his fields between his sons, as happened in this parable, all he was doing was entrusting the management of a portion of the fields to each.
Two words that help us understand this are Freedom and Independence. The father gave each son the freedom to manage his share of the property. He did not, and could not, give either the independence to sell the family property to dispose of as he wished.
The depth to which the boy fell in the far country is dramatized by his wanting to share the food of the terribly unclean pigs.
The beginning and the core of his repentance is expressed in his saying, “I will go back to my father.” Using the key words freedom and independence, we can say, “He realized he could not be independent of his father.”It is noteworthy that the father cut him short when he tried to enumerate his sins. In line with our calling our Sacrament “Reconciliation,” it is no longer necessary for us to go one by one through the whole laundry list of our sins. To be reconciled to a friend what one must do is remover the offensive behavior that has separated us. For a good confession what one must do is to remove the one matter that keeps him or her from being close to God.