I’ve got to be honest. When I looked at our Gospel reading for this week – my thought was something like: I know the Prodigal Son is perhaps the most loved parable and the masterpiece of Mercy, but are we hearing it again so soon? Really?
And then I thought…what if my attitude could have been part of the sinful attitude of the prodigal son? I can just imagine the prodigal son at home, perhaps coming in late and getting lectured about it in the morning from his concerned father – and the son is tired of staying at home and tired of comparing himself to his older brother and so he splits.
Or perhaps the “I’m so tired of this routine” was part of the older son’s life. Perhaps, when his brother comes back and he hears about it, he thinks, “Really! He’s getting off the hook again? Of course, this happens every time. The old man’s always been a sucker for his excuses.” Same old story.
Truly though, this story has never ended for it is the story of mankind. I think we could imagine our entire nation fitting into roles of these two sons, and ultimately this is good news because the Father never gets tired of His sons.
Now, if we told this story through the lens of our nation it might be easy to point out how at least part of our nation is living the life of the younger son – how we are more and more enslaved to the flesh and we are racking up huge financial debts that endanger the future not just of ourselves, but the inheritance of everybody. Perhaps some of these people would say that others are wasting our environmental gifts. Truly, everybody can get in taking some of the guilt. As Isaiah puts it, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way…(Is 53:6)”
If we look closely at the prodigal son, there are actually two departures. The first departure is the one we think about where he actually leaves his father to live for himself. The second is that he forgets who he is and his own value. Remember that this story was told to the Pharisees, and they hear about this young man longing to eat with the swine. He has become as a beast – and not even one of the clean ones. Now, eventually our text says that he came “to his senses.” Another translation says “he came to himself.” There’s a theme throughout all of our readings of sin and finally losing one’s grip on reality – on what’s important in life in sin, and then repentance leading to joy. We should be hopeful then. We have seen the first stage take place. The secularization of our country we could see as departing from the Father. Today, we have people seemingly losing all touch with whatever is left of our inheritance as a nation – our own flag has been seen as divisive. I return to an earlier point – that the prodigal son is not a parable that has been finished. We are living it. Every one of us is called to conversion and Isaiah continues in that quote by stating, “the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all” referring to Christ taking us on His shoulders.
Tomorrow/Today is September 11th. On September 11, 2001 – we were attacked not as any single individual race, but as a nation. Civilians, and firefighters and, yes, police of every color all bled together in the World Trade Center – and the only color that mattered was the redness of their blood. They added fresh significance to the meaning of those stripes on our flag: men and women who have died like Christ to serve us all.
We could point to our country and see those that are forgetting the goodness of America and the value of freedom and rightfully see in them the younger son. But let us not forget our own need for repentance. Many of us line up alongside the elder son. We are patriotic. We have not given into the same excesses. You know this entire parable was actually addressed to the Pharisees and to any of us who fit the description. This is not a reason to despair, but to receive the Word and change the story. The elder son was out in the field, but he too had become a slave. He was not working with joy, for he too had lost the perspective of love. With the younger sons and daughters off who knows where – we cannot forgive them in person, but we can start in our hearts. And we can join the Father in seeking them every evening, particularly in our prayers.
How do we avoid letting everything get stale through sin? How do we rejoice in the joy of others coming back to the faith, rather than grind our teeth? Share everything with the Father. Sharing our thoughts, feelings, and desires with God through constant conversation with Him and confession when we do stray keeps our lives from spoiling. Sharing everything with God teaches us that any gain to another is a gain to us – for it pleases our Father whom we love. And if you think you long to be with God and will love being with Him, He is even more excited by the possibility of living in you. If we are with the Father, our country is safe, for we have everything if we Him.
Not only will what has become routine be refreshed, but this love makes us young in spirit, for one of the qualities of God is a childlike spirit. Chesterton explains the significance: “Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”