Friday, 12 March 2010

"It was fitting to make merry and be glad (Luke 15:32)

This Sunday's Gospel is the story of the prodigal son (Lk 1:11-32). It is a lovely, but a challenging story and very well know. I will throw out of few of my own thoughts about this passage...

Jesus tells the story in the context of the Pharisees and scribes who were muttering "This man receives sinners and eats with them." (Luk 15:2 RSV) With the parable of the prodigal son He tries to try and make clear the radical love God has for us His creatures.

The younger son says to his father "Father, give me the share of property that falls to me." (Luk 15:12 RSV), and then in a few days gathers all his belongings and goes off to a far country and squandered all his money. It might be worth to note that the younger son asks for his inheritance. Normally you only get your inheritance once the person owning it is deceased, and as such we can maybe take from it that the Father is as somebody death to the son, he means nothing to him. We can subsequent try and think about our relation with God. It might in most cases be hard to imagine that our parents are as nothing to us, as being death while still alive, but what about God?


When we do our own will, when we sin, we are practically acting as the youngest son. We close our heart to God, we ignore or silence His prompting in our soul, in our conciousness. It seems to me that I can well image me doing that, that I am well able to shut God out when it suits me, to go off to a 'far country' and 'squander' whatever is given me...

So then a famine breaks out and the young man ends up feeding pigs, for a Jew the lowest point you can reach as pigs are seen as unclean animals. He even "gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate" (Luk 15:16 RSV). When the young man went off with all his wealth he was going to have a good time, but it is easy to see that did not last... whatever thing it is we use to flee from God, it will not last, and only open up an emptiness which we subsequent need to fill with something else. The running out of money and becoming in need does not have anything to do with money... it is our inner nature, the person who we really are, which is starving.

As human beings we are made in the image and likeness of God. We become fully and truly who we are meant to be the closer we are to God. This results in being more full-filled in life and results in happiness. The fruits of this closeness can be found in the theological virtues; faith, hope and love. But if we are far away from God we lack the virtues which will bring us happiness, and we don't really actualise the person we are. As such we can start to become more restless, searching for fulfilling in (material) things, searching to escape this reality of an inner emptiness, which can only be found in God, as that is the only place where our heart finally will find its rest.

But back to the story... Then "he came to himself he said, `How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger!" (Luk 15:17 RSV). Literally it says "and he came into himself", he realised that there was something fundamentally wrong, not just the noise of the empty belly...

So he prepares his speech while he sets off home and was going to propose that his father should treat him as "one of your hired servants" (Luk 15:19 RSV). However, here begins the message to unfold. First off all we learn that "while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him." (Luk 15:20 RSV) The father has been looking out for him all the time, and was longing for the return of the young man. He does not allow him to give his prepared speech but calls the servant to properly cloth him, to put a ring on his finger (a sings of being back in the family?) and to but on a party!

And so it is with God and ourselves. Even when we choose to go off our own way, if we completely ignore the existence of God, He is always there for us and longing for our return. God loves each and every one of us to an extend that we cannot imagine. Like the father, God is not necessarily interested in our sins, he is much more interested in us "coming to our senses" and realising that the only way to fill the emptiness in our soul is to turn back to Him:

"As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live" (Eze 33:11 RSV)

But now a quick few words on the eldest son. He has been working in the field, and always has been loyal to his father. He comes back from a long days work and hears the music. He asks a servant what is going on, and he learns that his brother came back. But "he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him" (Luk 15:28 RSV).

It seems to me very easy to identify with the elder son. It does not seem fair that the younger brother gets a party after all his has done, squandered half the property while living with harlots and now the father has the fattened calf prepared for him! The elder son makes his speech: "Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends." (Luk 15:29 RSV)

But notice that the elder son is not really concerned with his father or his younger son, it is himself he is concerned about, the only thing he said about his father is that he served him and did not disobeyed  him. He is not concerned with the younger brother being found from being lost, but annoyed that the fatted calf was prepared for him while he never got anything to celebrate with his friends.

Here it is important to check the attitude one has towards God, and what it means to know God. The older son seems to be compared to the scribes and Pharisees. They did what was right, to a large extend at least, but love of God was not in their heart. But knowledge of God is radical, as is God (who is love). As mentioned above, by a virtues life we grow closer to God, and the closer to God we are the more we are filled with faith, hope and love. It will bring us to a different level, not only because we find peace or are deep down happy, but because this love is like a furnace within us. It changes us, is moves us and it transforms us!

At least that is what is supposed to happen to some extend... Real love of God has to make a difference in our lives, and should not just leave us indifferent... instead of the elder brother we should grow towards being the father, and then with real charity and we naturally start to realise that "It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found" (Luk 15:32 RSV)

1 comment:

Barb Schoeneberger said...

Who among us cannot recognize ourselves in both brothers on occasion? This is one of my favorite Gospel stories. Thank God for his forgiveness! It is hard to stay on the straight and narrow but what at first seems the easy way always leads to trouble.

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