“How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father” (Luke 15:17-18). On this fourth Sunday of Lent, we are called to return home. This call is echoed deeply in the voice of the prodigal son who upon coming to his senses, said to himself: “I will arise and go to my father.” Luke 15:18. The hunger of the prodigal son reflects that deep longing in us which no earthly food can satisfy, that hunger for which St. Augustine writes: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.”
The call to return home is foreshadowed in our first reading, wherein we see the people of Israel under the leadership of Joshua finally settling down in Gilgal. For the first time after four hundred years, they were no longer to feed on manna but on the fruit of the land of Canaan; the land flowing with Milk and Honey. Manna was a symbol of their rebellion in the desert, a symbol of sojourning across the desert. Once again, there are so many lessons for us to take home today:
We are simply Pilgrims on Earth.
Being heavenly-bound, we too are on a journey through a desert. Think of all the problems the world is facing today, listen to the news and you cannot but realize we are in a desert. All the world has to offer us is manna at its very best and this is why Jesus was not carried away by Satan’s offer of earthly kingdoms. Jesus knew that all the kingdoms of the world are simply desert compared to the glory of heaven and so refused to bow.
The prodigal son represents that desire in us to grab and grab the material pleasures of the world. That he was able to squander all he had within a short time shows that all the world has to offer only lasts for a short time; money reduces in value, beauty fades, things get broken, fame diminishes, love soon turns to hate and so on… In fact, nothing lasts forever on earth! We must never lose sight of our true home; heaven.
Every Sin is a Prodigal Act.
Every time, we value the things of this world over and above God, we are acting very much like the prodigal son. Sin always looks very attractive and beneficial at the beginning and God respects our freedom if we choose to go to that direction. But no sooner had we fallen, do we realise the pain and sorrow of our foolishness.
In the end, that which promised us lasting enjoyment away from the father’s presence soon turns into starvation and misery and it dawns on us that we would have been better off in the father’s house; that is, within the comfort zone of obeying God’s commandments. Quite often, like children standing in front of their father’s compound, the grass always greener in their neighbour’s compound. We tend to believe that there is something to be gained from sin and instead of appreciating where we are in God, we begin to see God’s house as burdensome.
Sin Reduces Us to the Level of Slaves.
Sin not only destroys the life of God inside us, but it also takes away our dignity by making us think less of ourselves. Like the prodigal son who forgot he was a Son and hired himself out as a farm-worker, sin gives us a low image of ourselves. Any person who says he or she cannot do without sin is a type of prodigal son who is just refusing to return home. The more we sin, the less we think we can overcome temptations.
Dear friends, no matter how deep we may have engrossed ourselves in sin, no matter how much pig food we may have consumed, we still have the capacity to return home. Hence St. Paul encourages us in today’s second reading: “if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has passed away; the new has come… For our sake, (God) made him to be sin who knew no sin, that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2nd Corinthians 5:17&21).
Pretence is a Silent Killer.
Both the younger son and the older one had the same problem; they were no longer satisfied with what they had. While the younger son decided to explore what was out there, the elder son kept to himself. He too longed to go out, but he wanted his father to give him a go ahead, his obedience was not genuine. This was why he felt cheated when the younger son returned.
He felt the boy only went out there to “enjoy.” Many of us are like the older brother, we strive to avoid sin, yet deep within us, we believe there is something to gain by committing sin. Our obedience becomes a matter of pretence rather than a matter of conviction. It is not enough that we avoid sin, we must serve God with a sense of joy and happiness knowing that by walking in the light, we are living the best possible life. Do you lack a sense of joy keeping God’s commandments? Then it is time to repent and return home.
God Eagerly Awaits Our Return.
Just as the Father gave a great banquet for the prodigal son, so is God going to give a great banquet for all sinners who change their ways and return to Him. There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who have no need of repentance. Jesus says: “But while he (the prodigal son) was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).
Imagine someone told you that your only child who had been sick for a while is dead only for you to rush to the hospital and meet that child alive again. Imagine the joy that would fill your heart seeing that child alive, this is the joy that fills God’s heart when we repent. Twice Jesus quoted the Father as saying: “for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found… for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:24&32). To sin is to die and be lost. Fr. Abu