Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 4. What man, &c. Christ left the ninety-nine in the desert, when he descended from the angelic choirs, in order to seek last man on the earth, that he might fill up the number of the sheepfold of heaven, from which his sins had excluded him. (St. Ambrose) — Neither did his affection for the last sheep make him behave cruelly to the rest; for he left them in safety, under the protection of his omnipotent hand. (St. Cyril in St. Thomas Aquinas)
Ver. 7. Joy in heaven, &c. What incitement ought it not to be to us to practise virtue, when we reflect that our conversion causes joy to the troops of blessed spirits, whose protection we should always seek, and whose presence we should always revere. (St. Ambrose) — There is greater joy for the conversion of a sinner, than for the perseverance of the just; but it frequently happens, that these being free from the chain of sin, remain indeed in the path of justice, but press not on eagerly to their heavenly country; whilst such as have been sinners, are stung with grief at the remembrance of their former transgressions, and calling to mind how they have forsaken their God, endeavour by present fervour to compensate for their past misconduct. But it must be remembered that there are many just, whose lives cause such joy to the heavenly court, that all the penitential exercises of sinners cannot be preferred before them. (St. Gregory, hom. xxxiv.)
Ver. 8. In the preceding parable, the race of mankind is compared to a lost sheep, to teach us that we are the creatures of the most high God, who made us, and not we ourselves, of whose pasture we are the sheep. (Psalm xcix.) And in this parable mankind are compared to the drachma, which was lost, to shew us that we have been made to the royal likeness and image even of the omnipotent God; for the drachma is a piece of money, bearing the image of the king. (St. Chrysostom in St. Thomas Aquinas)
Ver. 10. Before the angels. By this it is plain that the spirits in heaven have a concern for us below, and a joy at our repentance, and consequently a knowledge of it. (Challoner)
Ver. 11. A certain man had two sons. By the elder son is commonly expounded the Jewish people, who for a long time had been chosen to serve God; and by the younger son, the Gentiles, who for so many ages had run blindly on in their idolatry and vices. (Witham) — Some understand this of the Jews and Gentiles, others of the just and sinners. The former opinion seems preferable. The elder son, brought up in his father’s house, &c. represents the Jews; the younger prodigal is a figure of the Gentiles. (Calmet)
Ver. 12. It is very probable, from this verse, that the children of the family, when come to age, could demand of their parents the share of property which would fall to their lot. For these parables suppose the ordinary practices of the country, and are founded on what was customarily done. Grotius thinks this was the common law among the Phœnicians. — The Gentiles, prefigured by the prodigal son, received from their father, (the Almighty,) free-will, reason, mind, health, natural knowledge, and the goods which are common to mankind, all which they dissipated and abused. Sinners who have besides received the gift of faith and sanctification, by baptism, and who have profaned the holiness of their state, by crimes, are more express figures of the bad conduct of this son. (Calmet)
Ver. 16. Husks. This expresses the extreme misery of his condition. There is no need of seeking any other mystery in this word. Horace, by a kind of hyperbole, (B. ii, Ep. 1.) represents the miser as living upon husks to be able to save more.
Vivit siliquis et pane secundo.
— And no man gave unto him; i.e. gave him bread, mentioned before; for as for the husks, he could take what he pleased. (Witham)
Ver. 18. How merciful is the Almighty, who, though so much offended, still does not disdain the name of father. — I have sinned. These are the first words of a sinner’s confession to the author of nature. God knows all things; still does he expect to hear the voice of your confession. It is in vain to think of concealing your sins from the eyes of him whom nothing can escape; and there can be no danger of acknowledging to him what his infinite knowledge has already embraced. Confess then that Christ may intercede for you, the Church pray for you, the people pour forth their tears for you. Fear not that you cannot obtain pardon, for pardon is promised to you; grace, and a reconciliation with a most tender parent, are held out to you. (St. Ambrose) — Before thee, &c. By this does our Redeemer shew, that the Almighty is here to be understood by the name of father: for the all-seeing eye of God only beholds all things, from whom even the secret machinations of the heart cannot be concealed. (St. Chrysostom in St. Thomas Aquinas)
Ver. 22. The first; i.e. the best robe: by it, is meant the habit of grace. (Witham)
Ver. 24. Was dead, and is come to life again. A sinner, in mortal sin, is deprived of the divine grace, which is the spiritual life of the soul. At his conversion it is restored to him, and he begins to live again. (Witham)
Ver. 25. His elder son, &c. We have already remarked, that this son represents the Jews. He boasts of having always served his father faithfully, and of never disobeying him. This is the language of that presumptuous people, who believe themselves alone holy; and despising the Gentiles with sovereign contempt, could not bear to see the gates of salvation laid open also to them. The 28th, 29th, and 30th verses express admirably the genius of the Jewish people; particularly his refusing to enter his father’s house, shews their obstinacy. (Calmet)
Ver. 29. I have never transgressed, &c. With what face could the Jews, represented here by the eldest son, say they have never transgressed the commandments of their father? This made Tertullian think that this was not the expression of the Jews, but of the faithful Christians; and, therefore, he interprets the whole parable as applied to a disciple of Christ. But we should recollect, that it is not uncommon for presumption to boast of what it never has done. The whole history of the Jews is full of numberless details of their prevarication and disobedience. (Calmet) — A kid, &c. The Jews demanded a kid, but the Christians a lamb; therefore was Barabbas set at liberty for them, whilst for us the lamb was immolated. (St. Ambrose)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
The parables of the lost sheep, and of the prodigal son.
1 Now the publicans and sinners drew near unto him, to hear him.
2 And the Pharisees and the Scribes murmured, saying: This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.
3 And he spoke to them this parable, saying:
4 *What man of you that hath a hundred sheep, and if he shall lose one of them, doth he not leave the ninety-nine in the desert, and go after that which is lost until he find it?
5 And when he hath found it, doth he not lay it upon his shoulders rejoicing:
6 And coming home call together his friends and neighbours, saying to them: Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost?
7 I say to you, that even so there shall be joy in heaven upon one sinner that doth penance, more than upon ninety-nine just who need not penance.
8 Or what woman, having ten groats, if she lose one groat, doth not light a candle and sweep the house, and seek diligently, till she find it?
9 And when she hath found it, call together her friends and neighbours, saying: Rejoice with me, because I have found the groat which I had lost.
10 So I say to you, there shall be joy before the Angels of God upon one sinner doing penance.
11 And he said: A certain man had two sons:
12 And the younger of them said to his father: Father, give me the portion of substance that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his substance.
13 And not many days after, the younger son gathering all together, went abroad into a far country: and there wasted his substance by living riotously.
14 And after he had spent all, there came a mighty famine in that country, and he began to be in want.
15 And he went, and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country. And he sent him into his farm to feed swine.
16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.
17 And returning to himself, he said: How many hired servants in my father’s house have plenty of bread, and I here perish with hunger?
18 I will arise, and will go to my father, and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee:
19 I am not worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
20 And rising up, he went to his father. And when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and running to him, fell upon his neck and kissed him.
21 And the son said to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee: I am not now worthy to be called thy son.
22 But the father said to his servants: Bring forth, quickly, the first robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it, and let us eat and make merry:
24 Because this, my son, was dead, and is come to life again: he was lost and is found. And they began to be merry.
25 Now his elder son was in the field: and when he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing:
26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.
27 And he said to him: Thy brother is come, and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe.
28 And he was angry, and would not go in. His father, therefore, coming out, began to entreat him.
29 And he answering, said to his father: Behold, for so many years do I serve thee, and I have never transgressed thy commandment, and yet thou hast never given me a kid to make merry with my friends:
30 But as soon as this, thy son, is come, who hath devoured his substance with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.
31 But he said to him: Son, thou art always with me, and all I have is thine.
32 But it was fit that we should make merry and be glad, for this, thy brother, was dead, and is come to life again: he was lost, and is found.
4: Matthew xviii. 12.