While we all have our own personal and emotional responses to the Parable of The Prodigal Son, I prefer taking a legalistic approach to it.
By Jewish law, sons were obliged to keep family property within the family. You might remember from the Book of Ruth how when the widow Naomi needed to sell her husband’s property, she had to offer it to his nearest relative.
Something like that is key to this parable. When the father was no longer up to managing the family estate, he turned the operation of it over to his sons: with the operation of two-thirds of it going to the older son. The younger son was entrusted with the management of a third of the property; and that gave him the freedom to plant what he wanted, and to employ any modern methods that appealed to him.
When we apply the parable to ourselves, it tells us that although all of us are entrusted with making the best use of our lives, we don’t own them. Like St. Paul said, “None of us lives as his own master. None of us dies as his own master. While we live, we live as his servants. Both in life and in death we are the Lord’s.”
There are two words that sound alike that are really quite different. I refer to Freedom and Independence. The Prodigal Son had the Freedom to manage his third of the land, but he was not independent of the Father. So it is with us.
The turning point of the parable came when the boy realized that he had been sinfully independent. That had him saying, “I will go back to my Father.” With us it must be the same. God has given us the freedom to make the best of our lives, but it is ruinously sinful for us to act in independence of the Father.