Updated: May 24
Sunday (Year C) Readings can be found: [HERE]
Today, we hear what might be the most famous of Jesus’ parables. We know this story well. The younger of two sons was guilty of believing a lie. He believed the lie that he could find happiness outside of his father’s home.
And so, he departs from his father’s home and eventually loses his inheritance, which was a sign of his dignity as son. Further, even his human dignity seemed lost as he finds himself serving pigs, which was unthinkable for any Jew.
But the son receives a great grace in a moment of reflection when he thinks back to the home of his father. Coming to his senses, he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here I am, dying from hunger.’
It’s a memory of his father’s house that reminds him of the dignity that he had lost. And this memory inspires him to return home to make his confession: “I will get up and go to my father,” he says to himself, “and I shall say to him...”
Now, we all know the frailty of human nature, and how certain doubts and fears can enter into the human heart. Perhaps that son began to doubt himself. “I have sinned against my father… dare I face him? It took all my strength to walk this distance; do I have the strength to speak to him? Dare I raise my eyes to him? Can I bear to see him face to face? Can I bear to see my shame in the eyes of my father?”
But it won’t be shame that the son will see in his father’s eyes, but pure and unconditional love. You see, the younger of the two sons never actually reached the home of his father before they were reunited. As we heard, while he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion.
Presumably, the father had left his own home in order to watch for his son’s return. He had been waiting for his son. How long might he have been waiting—we don’t actually know. But we do have some sense of the father’s anguish at his son’s absence, when he finally sees him again.
The text makes it very clear: He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. Just imagine that image. Think of an old man whom you love; maybe your father or grandfather. Imagine this man running to embrace his son. He had already left is own home, and now he abandons all semblance of dignity and feebly, but with all of his strength, running to his son.
That son had lost his inheritance and made a ruin of his dignity. He must have been filthy and in rags at that point. But the father’s eyes cannot be fooled. He saw his son. The son had forgotten his dignity, but the father did not.
That outpouring of love prompts the son to make his confession: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son..."
But before he can complete what he had rehearsed earlier, the father interrupts: “Quickly”, he says, “bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.”
In other words, restore to my son his rightful dignity! “Then, let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.”
Like the prodigal son, perhaps we too, at some point or another have been guilty of believing the lie. Perhaps we were deceived to think that happiness could be found outside of our Father’s house, spiritually. And maybe we, too, have lost the inheritance that was promised to us at our baptism.
And now, at some level or another, we pass our lives in the service of pigs, to continue the metaphor. Culturally, emotionally, spiritually, maybe we’ve surrendered more than we bargained for; so that our dignity is covered with filth, and we hunger for the leftovers of swine.
But just as the father had been waiting for his prodigal son, so also our eternal Father patiently waits for each one of us. And as the father in the parable himself crossed the distance in order to embrace his son, so also has God himself cross the distance of sin and death [gesturing to the Cross], in order to embrace each one of us, who turns our heart towards him. God himself is filled with compassion; desiring to run, embrace, and kiss, his beloved child.
The Father’s eyes cannot be fooled. He sees through our dirt and grime. And in his mercy, he again restores our dignity, and brings us home.
The father of the prodigal son welcomed his son back with a feast. Our Father in heaven gathers us here for this feast, which is the greatest of banquets. And in this feast, he rejoices at our return, because this child of his was dead, but lives again; was lost, but now is found.