There are few readings of the scriptures that are more frequently alluded to or commented on than the story of the “Prodigal Son”. Rightly understood we realize the story focuses on the prodigality of God and God’s mercy more than it focuses on the immature and self-driven decisions of the sinner (child) in the story. How might we approach this wonderfully rich text and the liturgy that it is embedded in today to hear more clearly how profoundly God cares for us?
Let us ponder the readings of this day in the context of a rising tide of panic across the world. Fear deeply etched in the faces of men and women on every continent that are facing the “enemy” of a new virus that has been unleashed and has begun its march across the world. In this human context is there a way that God speaks to each of our hearts? Is there an invitation to come close to God and admit that each one of us (not just “they” or “them”) has thrown away the rightful inheritance of God’s loving kindness by our self-centered and destructive choices?
The call to conversion starts with a recognition that the focus of one’s life is misaligned. Too often I have chosen to do my own thing, go my own way, provide for my own pleasure or security without considering the needs of sisters and brothers who share this common home. Too often the only thing that drives me to re-focus on what is true and central to my happiness is a catastrophe that I cannot manage by myself.
But there is no guarantee that simply recognizing this disastrous situation will be enough. The prodigal first tries solving the problem for himself and brings himself to new depths of destruction by seeking out a job that totally steals his dignity and corrupts his deepest sense of value. Remember that Jews believe that pigs are an “unclean” animal – so “feeding pigs” is an apt metaphor for recklessly spending his life force on things that undermined his human capacities to thrive.
What self-destructive patterns have any one of us chosen to waste resources on, and then in a moment of panic sought to escape through mind-numbing pleasure choices, or workaholism, or alignment with false “saviors” of hating or blaming others? If we look around, we find ourselves “feeding the pigs” of fear and false solutions.
God’s grace invites us to “wake up” as the sinner does, and to see that even the lowest place in the reign of God is more life-giving than taking; more full of human thriving than corruption; more joyous and consoling than the highest places in the palaces of power, self-centeredness and human honors. “I will rise and go to my father” the sinner states. But where will the one lost in such depravity find the joy of HOME?
Whether our imagination recalls a parenting figure who fathers or mothers(or both) – that is the place of home, says this story. The place where there is no fear for tomorrow because mercy and justice are the practices of the household – a household of love, a place of the fullness of life. The Prodigal parent, father and/or mother, is the image that Jesus gives his hearers today – the one who runs out to meet the sinner and rejoices because the child has come back to life.
Lent is the time to remember or imagine this place of God’s utter compassion. God as loving parent, not judge or punisher, not one ready to say “See, I told you this would happen”, but ever eager to say, “Welcome home, welcome home, I have missed you so much.”
Can we, in a time of fear and crisis, open our hearts and ears to the invitation here and now to come home to God’s Reign – to come to the place of thriving and joy even in the midst of world panic and dilemma, and begin to make choices from that place of confidence and security – good choices for ourselves and for others that collaborate to support new possibilities by the time Easter brings the hope of yet fuller life for all of Creation.
O God, who grant us by glorious healing remedies while still on earth to be partakers of the things of heaven, guide us, we pray, through this present life and bring us to that light in which you dwell.