Earlier this week in thinking about today’s Gospel, thinking about a Father and his sons, I thought about my own father and an incident that I haven’t thought about in a very long time. It involves my Dad, my brother Matt, and me. One day, in early spring, I was about seven I think, dad came home pulling into the driveway with his white Chevy truck. Matt and I went out to meet him and with our exceptional eyesight we spied two candy bars sitting on the dashboard. Of course we asked, “Are those for us,” knowing that they probably were. Dad said, “Yes” but then he told us not to touch them, leave them; they’re for later, for after dinner. He then pulled the truck into the barn, candy bars still on the dashboard, doors unlocked. He then took the tractor and went out to the field behind the house to plow. Matt and I just watched Dad plowing the field just going back and forth, back and forth.
Temptation was too great; you probably know what happened next, we went to the barn, easily opened the unlocked truck and grabbed the candy. Now I think most kids would have eaten them right there, but before eating them Matt and I did something a little more obnoxious. We went to the back yard and started waving to Dad as he plowed the field. We were jumping up and down, waving our hands, clutching those candy bars, saying, “Ha Ha we got the candy bars, you couldn’t stop us.” The effects of original sin were alive and well in our young hearts. Though washed free of Original sin in baptism the attraction to sin remained. I’m sure Dad saw us jumping up and down waving to him and maybe he thought, “How nice my boys are waving to me.” He couldn’t hear us and I’m sure he couldn’t see the candy bars in our hands. He knew later of course.
Now there were consequences to our actions, I don’t remember what they were, but I do remember being very sorry. But Dad never held a grudge and he quickly forgot about the whole incident. I’m sure we all have our own “candy bar story” of some sort, when we took something, that we just couldn’t live without, taking something and trying to hold on to it, not wanting to let it go, when it would have been, eventually, freely given to us.
In our parable today, maybe one of the greatest parables, the younger son wants something of a much greater value. He wants it bad. He wants his inheritance, saying to his father, “Give to me what is mine, give me my inheritance, I can’t wait, I want it now.” In a sense he’s saying to his father, “I wish you were dead already, hurry up and die, so I can have what’s mine.” Its all about me, what I want, what I need, me me me.
Now in this parable we get a look at the spiritual life, everything about the spiritual life is in this parable. To begin with; everything we have is from the Father, our being, our breath, our life, our everything. God is like a father who gives and gives and gives. His whole being is for giving. We’re the children of a hyper generous father. And when we receive that divine life as a gift we’re meant to give it away. What we receive we give away, and to live this way is to live in the Loop of Grace. Giving away what we’ve received. Now the youngest son wants none of this, telling the father, give me what I’m due and get out of my life. He wants the gifts without the relationship. And the father respects his freedom. If you want to go, I’ll let you go, says the father. So the son leaves taking with him all the father’s gifts. And in the parable it says that the son sets off to a distant country, and in the original Greek this could also mean he set off to the great empty space, he totally cuts himself off from the father. In his father’s house the son had everything he needed, he had a fullness of life. But cut off from that divine life, out in the great empty space, the son’s life soon enters a famine, living in the space of his ego, thinking only of himself; all that the son has received is squandered and lost. Without a connection to the father he suffers from lifelessness and dryness, he suffers everything we imagine a famine of the soul to be.
Eventually coming to his senses the son goes home, his contrition isn’t perfect, but it’s enough and when the father catches sight of him the father’s heart is filled with compassion (I had a confessor once tell me that the moment we enter the door of a confessional our Father’s heart in the very same way is filled with compassion for us). Now all this time the father’s been looking and waiting for his son. God hates our sin not because he’s the heavenly policeman but because sin makes us less alive, so if we enter the great empty space of sin he’s always watching and waiting for us to return. Now the father in the parable catching sight of his son runs to meet him, embraces him, and kisses him. For the listeners of Jesus’ time this would have been very odd. Not the kissing or the embracing but the running. The patriarch does not run to meet people let alone running to meet a son who’s squandered his property. But out of love the father humiliates himself to welcome back his son. He then dresses his son up reminding him of his nobility as a son of the father, and restores him to his original dignity as a beloved son.
Rembrandt painted the homecoming of the prodigal son. And it’s a very dark painting; the only light in the painting seems to come from the Father. Light radiates from the Father’s heart as he embraces his son. We have a Father in heaven who is crazy in love with us, a Father who’s always inviting us into his own life. And even when we enter the great emptiness of sin, he still pursues us and waits for us. Because his mercy endures forever and his love for us is ever unwearied.
Let us be great Saints,
Rev. Christopher J. Ankley