March 14, 2010
The Safest Place to Go
Lk 15:1-3, 11-32
Four old friends met after a long time. They were having fun as they shared the memorable events of their long friendship. Then their conversation shifted to their personal lives. “You know,” said one, “since we are good friends, why don’t we share about our personal problems that keep bothering us through these years?” Everybody agreed. The first said, “Well, you see, I still have this problem with alcohol. I have not yet gone over my excessive drinking.” There was a gasp from the other three. The second said, “You may not be aware of this, but gambling is ruining my life and my family. I just cannot quit.” After another loud gasp, the third spoke, “I’m really afraid that my wife will find out about this. I am involved with another woman. And it looks like I might end up in divorce.” More gasps. But the fourth guy remained very quiet and seemed unwilling to share. The others persuaded him to speak up, “C’mon! We are friends here. Your secret will remain a secret.” After much hesitation, he said, “You know, you might get angry with me. But I have been seeing a psychiatrist for some time now because I have problems with keeping my mouth shut. I am an incurable gossip!”
The fact is, we are all sinners. St. Paul said that in his Letter to the Romans: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). We differ only in matters of degree.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son illustrates this sad reality about our wounded human nature. The younger son was visibly bad – he insulted his father by demanding his inheritance; he abandoned his family in search of worldly pleasure and selfish ambitions; he squandered his money in a life of debauchery – he was a total disaster! In contrast, the elder son was obviously the good son – he never left the house and his father; he rendered constant service to the family; and he did not waste a single penny.
But as the story unfolded, we begin to see a different picture. The younger son, despite his ill behavior, has some goodness in him: he was humble enough to admit his mistakes and was truly sorry. Then he decided to return to his father, even willing to be just one of the hired hands. The elder son, on the other hand, showed the other side of his character – he was proud, arrogant and insensitive. His nasty behavior towards his younger brother and his refusal to join in the celebration not only caused much distress to his father but also brought disunity to the entire household. In short, this parable clearly illustrates the truth that all of us are sinners in one way or another. As Henri Nouwen said, “We are all handicapped; some are more visibly handicapped than others.”
But the parable also shows us another picture – it is the beautiful image of a loving and forgiving father. Actually, many bible scholars pointed out that the title “Prodigal Son” is not really accurate. The story is focused, not on either of the two sons, but on the father. He was very understanding and generous that he gave away the inheritance to his prodigal son. His love for him did not diminish, but grew more as the days went by. Each day his eyes scanned the horizon, anxiously looking for any sign of his son. And when finally he saw him from a distance, he ran to meet and embrace him. That is why the title “Parable of the Running Father” is more precise. In the patriarchal society of Palestine, the head of the family does not run to meet anybody – that would be highly disgraceful. Moreover, not only did he welcome back his lost son; he also restored his place of dignity in the family, as symbolized by the sandals, robe and ring. Then he offered a grand party, for his son “was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.”
This same unconditional love was shown by the father to the other son. The elder son was angry and resentful, and refused to come inside the house to join in the celebration. Again the father went out of his way to look for him and patiently pleaded with him. It was not mentioned if the elder son relented, but the message is clear: the father’s love for his sons is constant and unconditional despite their sins and distasteful behavior, and he is willing to sacrifice himself just to bring them back to his arms. Such is the love of God for us sinners.
This parable should give us consolation and encouragement. No matter how sinful we are, God’s love for us never diminishes, and he longs to see us come to our senses and return to his house. St. Paul urges us in the second reading today: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Stubbornly persisting in a sinful life and being away from our heavenly Father poses grave and countless dangers to our souls.
Nowadays, we live in danger at any given moment. Sudden deaths and accidents can happen everywhere – in all the various means of transportation, on the streets and at home. Even unborn babies are not anymore safe in the wombs of their mothers. Nowhere can we be safe. But this parable tells us that there is one safest place to go – and that is in the loving arms of the Father. The prodigal son made the biggest mistake: he left the security and comfort of his father’s arms, and this resulted in his untold misery and sufferings. Only then did he realize and appreciate the comfort and security in his father’s home. So he decided to rise up and return home.
As we come closer to the Holy Week, we are all invited to go back home to our Father. We all are His beloved children. Our true home is in His loving embrace – the only place where we will enjoy true and lasting happiness and peace. God’s invitation is eloquently expressed in the Psalm: “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” Indeed, there is no place like home.
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
New York, NY 10002