February 15, 2009
When I disobey in ignorance thy fatherly glory, I wasted in iniquities the riches that thou gavest me. Wherefore, I cry to thee with the voice of the prodigal son, saying, I have sinned before thee, O compassionate Father, receive me repentant, and make me as one of thy hired servants.
I watch the headlines flash by on the television and hear the tales of a world gone wrong. And as I do I know why this is so, not because I possess any superior insight but rather because Jesus wisdom echoes over the ages.
We are prodigals, all of us, myself the first, and our pride has caused us to buy into a lie about who we are, what life is about, and the ultimate purpose of things. In our arrogance we, each in our own ways, discarded everything that went before us and struck out into the world full of ourselves and confident of our answers. Our precious inheritance has been squandered on rich living and harlots of our own making.
But now the money is gone and we realize, like the young man in this Gospel, that good time friends stay only for the party and vaporize into the hot winds of famine. When artificial props and false foundations are swept away by the rushing flood we fall and find our ourselves in reality, working hard for next to nothing, our minds coming to sense and longing for what we had selfishly scorned, a home, a place, a relationship, a father.
No, it may not be a pig sty where our heart becomes bereft of comfort and longing for what we have forsaken. It can be our office, our home, that last seat at the bar where we’re buried in our drink, or some moment alone in the small hours of the night when the culture’s anesthesia wears off and we’re finally alone with our pain. But the moment comes, it is inevitable, and face it we must.
Some of us will arrive at that hour and respond with even more of what brought us to that place. We’ll choose to drink more deeply from the squalid well that has caused our stomachs to churn and our life to be poisoned. We’ll hope that even more excess, more money, more of whatever we desire will finally break us through to where we had hoped it would all take us. One more drink, one more party, one more loan on our future, one more fix of whatever we crave, damn tomorrow and full speed ahead. It’s a recipe for death, body, soul, culture and world.
Some, though, will hear those small voices inside and be flooded with light and wisdom gained from pain. They will say to themselves “Why am I living this way?” and as they do they take the first step of the long journey home. Like the young man in Jesus wise story they have returned to sanity and in humility hope there is still a chance for them in the place they had left behind. They fear the worst but hope for the best and are willing to take the chance that even if they cannot be where they once were they still can be closer to home.
What they will discover is that even when they are still far away, when home is a speck in the distance, a welcome awaits. While we often stop caring about God; while we often assert our own wisdom against His and forget that He even exists, He has never forgotten us and what is more He has never stopped loving us and waiting for our return. While we are still on the horizon, covered in rags and smelling of our unwashed folly, God draws towards us and embraces even our filth as He escorts us safely home.
This is why we do battle against our passions and our sins. This is why we live this Christian life. This is why we fast and pray and worship and give alms and seek to be pure of character and filled with a lively hope. This love that God has for us so eloquently portrayed in Jesus holy words calls us out of ourselves, out of our selfishness, out of a broken world and back to our heart’s true home whether we have wandered far or only just around the corner. However we are, whatever we have become, for ourselves and our world there is a way back if we have the wisdom to see it and the humility to take the first step and as we do we begin to possess eternal life.