The story of the prodigal son is one of the longest in the gospel, but it’s also one of the most important. It’s not just about one boy who goes astray, of course, it’s about the whole human race– all of us– are the subject of this story.
“Give me what’s mine,” the son says boldly to his father. We all tend to say that. And the boy takes off for a faraway country, a permissive paradise that promises power and pleasure, in fact, it promises him everything; he can do anything he wants.
But they’re empty promises, and so the boy who had so much ends up with nothing, in a pigsty feeding pigs, and they eat better than he does.
Then, he takes his first step back. He “comes to himself,” our story says; he realizes what he has done. “I have sinned.”
How straightforward that reaction! Not blaming anybody else for the mess he is in: not his father, or the prostitutes he spent so much of his money on, or the society that fooled him. No, he takes responsibility. That “coming to himself” was the first gift of God’s mercy.
He doesn’t wallow in his disappointment and his sins and his failures and what they’ve brought him. They don’t trap him. He looks beyond them to the place where he belongs, his father’s house. It wont be an easy road, but he starts back home.
There he’s surprised by the welcome he receives. More than he ever expected. The father takes into his arms and calls for feast.
This is our story too. The story of God’s mercy. Let’s ask for the gift to know ourselves. Let ask for the gift to keep going to our father’s house. Let’s ask for the gift to know God’s embrace, God’s warm embrace. The embrace of his love.
Our first reading from the Prophet Micah reminds us that nations stray as well as individuals. Let’s not forget God’s mercy falls on the world as well as each person. We pray for a world that can wander far from God.
How easily we leave your side,
for a place far away.
Send light into our darkness,
and open our eyes to our sins.
Unless you give us new hearts and strong spirits,
we cannot make the journey home,
to your welcoming arms and the music and the dancing.
Father of mercies and giver of all gifts,
guide us home
and lead us back to you.
This time, after reading this Gospel, I found myself in this unexpected reverie. The day after the feast the “Prodigal Son wakes up and tells his father that what would make him happy is to go into the fields and do some good hard work. He has learned how to do this.
While toiling there, his brother notices him and exclaims, “What are you and my father doing to me! You’re driving me crazy! OK I forgive!