Joshua 5: 9a, 10-12 2 Corinthians 5: 17-21 Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32
In the efforts that we make to express our feelings for someone who is important us, be it a friend, a spouse, a child or a parent, it is often a most difficult task to convey the genuineness of the love that is felt for them. Words can often fail. A gift is not always understood or appreciated. Doing something for them often does not accomplish what was hoped. All of these efforts can become frustrating.
The story of the Prodigal Son struck me as being one more attempt by Jesus and, through him, by God, to reveal to us the depth of the message of God’s love for us. I believe it to be one of the richest stories in the Gospels. It is one of the fullest illustrations given to us of the purpose of Christ’s mission.
Those who gathered around Jesus and heard this story represent all of us. All of us include those who, in some way, are estranged or distant from God. All of us are those whose choices limit the way that we are to be reflections or images of God. All of us are also those who neglect or reject, or take for granted, our possibilities to live lives in peace, inharmony, in love with God, our Creator and with one another.
If we are honest, each of can find something of ourselves in this story of the Prodigal Son. In the case of the younger son, he simply takes things for granted, as if all that is involved is his right. What is his father’s, he demands for himself. He feels that it is his right to do as he pleases, to waste what is given to him, to think only of himself. What has been freely given to us by our God we often feel free to waste. We have been given the ability to live, to love, to better the world in which we live. But we can think that it is not our responsibility, it is not our duty. We need only think of ourselves.
Then there is the case of the older son. He is the righteous one, the “good” son. He correctly pointed out that he did everything that he was supposed to do. But he did this with a selfishness that was not unlike that of his brother. He was closed in on himself, He resented not only the waste by his brother but also the generous and unquestioning love of his father. Like the older brother, what good we might do is diminished by the expectation we have that God act toward us according to our limited self-serving ways, ways that doubt God, that question God, that fail truly to trust God.
The father in this story represents our loving God who responds to us in whatever way we find ourselves. I can almost hear him say: “What did I do to have sons like this?” These are sons who waste the goodness that is shown to them. These are sons who reject the love that has been freely given to them. So our God can readily speak to each of us. If we are honest, in some way we can identify ourselves with the sons. In some way the desire of our God is to tell us, to show us, the depths of the Divine love for us, has not penetrated our thinking fully. In some way we hinder God’s love for us. We set up obstacles to this love. We choose ourselves instead. We choose sin. In some way we fail to appreciate the transforming power of the relationship God seeks with us. We fail to recognize the effect that this relationship is to have on us, on our world, on with all that is around us. All of this can be understood in this story Jesus tells us of the Prodigal Son.
Like the father, our God waits, longingly and hopefully, for our return so that we can be reunited with our truly good and gracious God.