The Gospel reading from Luke 15 is the well-known story of the Prodigals. The priest tonight at mass taught me the other meaning of prodigal….I only knew it as wasteful and extravagant. It also means giving something on a lavish scale. Ah….I love plays on words. It seems that the terms play against each other, giving the reader the option of using the model of the prodigal son or the prodigal father.
In this Year of Mercy, I hope we see how important each role is. I suppose, all of us are the prodigal child at some point in our lives, standing in need of forgiveness for our error, our waywardness. The phrase that comes to mind is that we are all more than our worst mistakes. We stumble, we fall, and we learn to pick ourselves up, and carry on, hopefully in a new way. If we are incredibly fortunate, we encounter a prodigal father–someone who shows us mercy despite our errant ways.
Last night at the prison, I spoke to a man for the first time. He has been in and out of the system since he was quite young. He wants to start fresh but he does not know how. He has turned his life over to God. One day he had an experience like the prodigal son in the Gospel, where he woke up both literally and figuratively and decided that his life was going nowhere. He was no longer living a life of worth in his eyes. He turned to God for help, as the son seeks his earthly father in the story. He believed something needed to change. I hope he finds what he needs to get out and stay out of prison.
The older son who remains at home in the Gospel is no better off than the man in prison though, before he came to his senses. He is caged in his resentment and bitterness, unable to show mercy or love. He is no longer living a life worthy of the gospel values either. There is no freedom for him.
None of us are worthy on some level. We try to live godly lives, but we do harm. We break relationships, we damage self-esteems, we destroy the earth, and we ignore God. Sometimes, we even run in the opposite direction. The thing is we always, always have the option of coming to our senses. It may be in a pig pen or it may be in an office but wherever it is, when we turn towards God, God is already running to us, arms wide open. Do we comprehend how spectacular that is? God accepts us back and throws us a party with the best food and finest clothes and jewels. All we have to do is turn back. How blessed are we!
Which definition of prodigal best describes you at this moment?
Do you need to turn back towards the merciful God right now?
Merciful God, run towards me when I realize that I am no longer worthy, when I stand in the pig sty of my life, thinking I know what is best for me. Help me to turn towards you when my ego gets too big and my recklessness threatens to destroy my goodness. Lavish me with your generous love and kindness and claim me as your child again. Amen.