Niccolo Machiavelli who is remembered by many scholars as the father of modern political science is mainly famous for his book The Prince (1513) in which he discusses success from a political point of view.
It was his conviction that for an individual whose vision is constant success must necessarily learn to read well the signs of the times. And he put it so beautifully: “Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times”.
The capacity to change one’s conduct with the times is what Jesus called the ability to read the signs of the times in his teaching. We see this in his answer when the Pharisees and Sadducees tricked him by asking for a sign from heaven!
Jesus knew what they were after; in fact they were so uneasy with Jesus’ teaching which asked of them a complete change of heart.
And so he replied: “When evening comes, you say, `It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and so it is. In the morning you say, `Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and so it is.’ If you are so smart in climatology, why can’t you interpret the signs of the times around you? (Matt.16:1-4).
Here Jesus was telling them that their problem was not ignorance, but rather lack of courage to change with the changing times.
Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus was not happy with the Pharisees and the scribes because they pretended to observe the Law of Moses, ignoring the new times and the new law which was central to his teaching. Instead of self examination, they over criticized the publicans, prostitutes and tax collectors.
Yes, they were ‘public sinners’, but Jesus is not against the sinner but the sin. He often approached this group people, and encouraged them to face reality and change their ways as the times required.
He taught them in parables without hurting anybody. In such incidences, he narrated to his audience one of his beautiful parables commonly known as “The prodigal son”. (Luke 15:11-32).
According to this parable; a man had two sons and the younger one demanded his share of inheritance and went off to a distant country where he engaged himself in a very riotous life until he finished all he had taken with him.
After hitting the bottom and in total despair, he started working as a swineherd in order to make ends meet. When he felt he had had enough of it, he took courage and returned to his father.
He did not claim his sonship but rather wanted to be allowed to work as one of his father’s slaves. To his surprise, on his arrival, his father was so happy with him and received him open- heartedly without asking for explanations.
This annoyed his elder brother who had remained at home and obedient to the father.
This parable is so remarkable because it is both simple and deep. It carries a very important lesson as far as the divine mercy is concerned. Through the father’s treatment of the errant son, we see God’s mercy which acts as a consolation on one hand and a challenge on the other.
It is consoling to see how the father treated his lost son: he covered his nakedness, and gave him a ring as a symbol of authority in his parent’s home. All this happened because the lost son was capable of changing his conduct with the changing times.
After losing all he had; his father, his identity, and his very humanity, he decided to come out of his degradation and ask for forgiveness.
The parable of the prodigal son has a dual challenging question for us all. When we are in the situation of the prodigal son or prodigal daughter, do we get the courage to make a turn and face the right direction, and return to the father for forgiveness? Or we stick to our pride and swallow the pin!
When we are in the situation of the good elder brother; are we blinded by our self-righteousness and pride? Do we refuse to enter into the house and join in the process of forgiveness because our brother was lost and now is found?
When our brother or sister is having a hard time, are we sympathetic or we rejoice over it? Such simple questions help us to position ourselves well in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son and see the role we play very often in our daily life.
Whether we are on the side of the lost son or the good son, we have some work to do, especially in this Lenten season. We must read well the signs of the times and for durable success, we must constantly change our conduct with times.