Has some dramatic or traumatic event in your life changed you? Maybe the death of someone we love or a health scare or a car accident caused us to slow down and recognize life a little more. That which we took for granted starts to take on a new light. That beauty that we never had time for now seems to draw our attention. If it is not us, we have surely seen it in others who tell us, “Slow down and smell the roses… every day is a gift.”
I don’t know about you but I very much respect those people that seem to have it more right than I do as I hurry on my way…. My missed opportunity. My not recognizing that life and our very days really are a gift to each one of us. My pursuing what I think I want verses appreciating what I have.
The Gospel today is, I think, a story for us about this very thing that was true 2,000 years ago and is so very true today also. The Prodigal Son story is a familiar one to us; we know about the trouble the son gets into and how it all turns out. But when I sat with this reading, I heard the story in a different light this time around. What I see is not one son who missed the point initially, but instead I saw both sons missing the point and in a hurry to live life, to get their due, and who may not really have time for the father.
So maybe we have not gone to Vegas and blown our inheritance like the younger son, but we can relate, maybe a little uncomfortably, to his approach to life. “I am going to take this money and have a blast because I deserve it.” And does he ever blow it, so much so that he has absolutely nothing left when the famine hits and he has to do the unthinkable for a Jew – hire himself out to tend the swine, one of the most ritually unclean jobs he could possibly take. But this becomes his dramatic moment, that near death experience that stops him in his tracks and changes him forever.
With dawning recognition, he realizes that he should beg his father to hire him as a worker and he will at least have enough to eat and live. An earnest, heartfelt repentance – “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you”.
Fast forward to the older son in the parable. He has forgotten what he has in the desire for what he wants… sounds like me sometimes. Both sons in a hurry, too busy to recognize what they had with the father.
It is easy in this parable to focus on and identify with the younger son who repents, and to wonder if the older son also gets it right in the end. But what really struck me in this story is not the joyful party the father throws for the younger son and invites the older son to. No, what moved me was the reaction of the father to each son individually. Do you remember what he did when he saw the younger son far in the distance? He ran to him. He was so overcome with joy that he ran out to meet his son who had repented and was coming home. Of his son he says, “He was lost and has been found.”
And when the older son was standing outside and refusing to come in, what did the father do? He came out to him and pleaded with him to come into the home. He didn’t send a servant out to fetch his son, he came out himself because it was that important to him. Like our heavenly Father pleading with humanity to come join Him in heaven.
This parable is from the very lips of our Savior 2000 years ago. He is trying to get his listeners and us to recognize just how much joy our heavenly Father has when we want to come home to him, or how much he will plead with us to come home to be with him. When I think about that, I cannot fathom the depth of that Joy that our Father has when he sees us coming to him. That picture in my head of him running to us in joy is moving, that in itself is a life event that changes me… that helps me slow down and recognize that life, especially with him in it, is a gift of deep beauty. The robe he will put on our shoulders, the ring he will put on our finger, the feast he has prepared for every one of us is waiting. “All I have is yours” says the Father.
If we turn to him, if we repent for what we have done, if we listen and accept his invitation… he will run to us! Because he is our Savior, because of the joy he feels, he runs. If (and hopefully when) I see that, if I didn’t automatically fall to my knees, I would run to him too!