He stood, watching and waiting for the moment his son would come home. He ran to him, burst into tears, embraced him in his filth. Hugged his child that smelled like swine and that had wished his own death.
It’s Lent. This past Sunday was the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. Often we talk about how great the Dad was in the story, or we talk about how nice it is for sinners to repent. Let’s discuss, though, what made the kid mess up so badly.
The son was living in the lap of luxury. He had everything, and was possibly spoiled. The dad was clearly rich, we can see this through the party scene at the end, and even through the mere fact that the son was thinking about his inheritance so much. Obviously he knew his dad was rich. The son had a roof over his head, food to eat, and stuff to drink. I don’t know if he had many friends or not, but he seems to have left his house alone, so either he didn’t have any, he rejected them, or he kept things a secret
The problem is that the son wanted more than he had. We know that the father is loving, but we don’t know that the son is. In fact, the evidence seems to point that the son was a terrible son.
The son’s mind was anywhere but the present. All he could see in front of him was what he didn’t like. How do we know this? By seeing what he did when he left!
He wasn’t happy with a regular life. He wanted to party. He wanted to drink. He wanted women. He wanted to do what he had clearly seen or heard about others doing. We only crave things when we know about them. Who could dream of being a pilot without ever hearing about what a pilot is? Who could dream about being or doing anything without knowing concepts about it? It’s not possible.
So the prodigal son saw the wealth that was in front of him as contemptible. This is really important to think about. In this analogy, the son is practically in heaven. Yet, he’s not happy. How many of us have thought to ourselves, “If I only had such and such” if “they only let me do this or that” I would be happy. All I really want is that thing, if I can just have that thing, I won’t be upset, I won’t desire anything. But the story is always the same. If you don’t have contentment, that so-called “one thing” is really not one thing. It’s many things. Because you have a lust issue, you are not content.
What makes a person unhappy? Wanting anything other than what he already has. It’s actually that simple. If you are driving home and wish you were with friends, you’ll be unhappy. If you are with friends and wish you were instead at the gym, you will not be happy. If you are at the gym and wish you were camping, you will not be happy. The focus is on somewhere else. That’s why our Lord said, “give us this day our daily bread”, that’s why He said, “Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof”, He’s saying — don’t put your mind anywhere other than now. But the lust of the heart is a powerful thing, it can make someone while in the presence of God, want something else. This is what happened to Lucifer. He wanted something else. He wanted the power of God, the prestige of God, the authority of God…he was not happy to be Lucifer. The problem is this: he is Lucifer. He can’t be someone else because he is not something else. Yes, it’s a little philosophical, but it’s true.
This is a big deal. Sometimes I hear people say or see them feel something like, “I did youth group and the religious thing and I wasn’t happy”, “I did that and it did nothing for me”. Is that possible? Yeah, it is. It’s also kind of wrong, but yes, it’s possible. But the question is, ‘what does that mean?’ Does that mean that because you weren’t happy that something was wrong with it? Not at all. It just means you wanted something else.
But is that something else that you want even good for you? That’s a question. Another question is, ‘Did you even know what it meant to be at Church? Did you know what it meant to be part of that group?’ I mean, someone might have an amazing group of friends (nothing to do with Church), and that person might want to do drugs for example. So, if he runs off and does his drug stint for a bit, he may find satisfaction there. But objectively speaking, what he is doing is bad for him, and objectively speaking, that group of friends that he left were good for him. So, a person can leave something good because he wants something wrong, but sometimes the ‘wrong’ is not as clear as we think it is.
That’s what the son did, he felt that where he was, was lame. He thought it was boring, he thought it was insufficient. He wanted something else. He didn’t care about the household. This “I don’t care” attitude, that’s the lack of love. It’s the, “my wants are way more important than yours, so see y’all later”. Actually, if you think about what the son said to the dad, it was a lot stronger than see you all later, what he actually was saying, in asking for his inheritance is, “Let’s act like you’re dead. Give me the money I’d get when you’re dead.” That’s what he’s really saying. It’s despicable by most peoples’ standards and it baffles me that the Father said “Here you go.”
The Father respected the son’s will. It wouldn’t shock me if there was pleading with him before he left, but whatever the dialogue was, the son made his choice, and nobody could convince him, and so he left. He left everyone who was part of his life, who shared commonality with him, totally behind. He showed them what he thought of them by walking out.
Then he filled himself up with the things that he thought were going to bring him joy. I have no doubt that initially he had happiness. There’s always a thrill to doing something new. There are new emotions, new experiences, new relationships. There are even aspects to these experiences that are not bad. Surely there are nice people out there, people who are caring etc… but they are blind leading blind. Think of a gym with no personal trainers, or a swimming pool with no lifeguards or teachers. People can jump up and down and have a lot of fun. A trend could evolve, someone thinks of a new idea of a way to try something, everyone copies, and everyone, with good intentions, are harmed. Everything starts out as an idea. Someone had to come up with it at some point. But instead of asking “is this good for me”, we just evaluate pleasure. We are emotional.
I can only imagine what kind of grief was going on at home without the younger kid. It also wouldn’t surprise me if the younger son was cursing the family back home. People who are self-absorbed are often able to see themselves as victims most of the time. People find it difficult to admit they might be wrong, so instead they talk about how someone else made them do what they did. That even if it was a mistake, it was a justified mistake because someone somewhere didn’t do something for them, or because someone somewhere provoked them. This pride is why so many people after they mess up, don’t come around, or don’t for a very long time.
This is what happened with this kid. Even after he ran out of his money, he accepted to feed pigs. He accepted to have one of the least prestigious jobs in existence for the sake of not having to own up to what he did. He’d rather feed pigs than have to admit that something was not going the way he wanted.
He had already stopped having fun, because reality had set in…there’s no such thing as freedom when you are a slave to something. He got his fun, but then realised soon that there was a cost to it. He had run out of money. Our passions have costs that we don’t see at first. Lusts take things from us – time, money, energy, health, you name it. A person who is addicted to drugs is going to have an emotionally wonderful time while high – but it’s not free. It’s costing him money, relationships, work, health and other things. Over time, that cost becomes more and more apparent. That’s why it usually ends up in a major accident or death. This kid was actually lucky: he ran out of money, not health. He probably lost his friends when he couldn’t finance his addictions anymore. He for sure lost his prestige.
But for all that wrong that the kid did, he did start do something right. Selfish, for sure, but right. I say selfish, because the moment of the son coming to his senses wasn’t exactly a loving thought. The text says that the kid “came to himself”, in modern words, “he came to his senses”, he had a eureka moment. The eureka moment was not, “oh, my dad loves me!” I wish. That would be a Full House moment for sure. No, instead it’s, “hey, my dad’s servants are living the life compared to me. They’re living it up while I’m practically dying. I wonder if I could get a job as his servant.”
This eureka moment is pivotal. It shows us so many things. Stuff about the son and stuff about the dad.
It shows us that the kid obviously did not get his father at all. He thinks his dad is going to want to own him and is hoping to maybe compromise on punishment by landing a job as a slave. That’s one thing.
It shows another thing – the kid is still totally selfish. He’s not thinking at all about what he did to his dad or his family or his friends, he is still totally self-loving. He wants stuff, so he’s asking his dad to let him back.
It shows us that the son’s regret over his past life is not really totally sincere, because he is not condemning the past life, but rather is just thinking about his present situation.
We are all that guy. Myself included. We love ourselves so much. We think so highly of ourselves. We think we know everything. We think we are smarter than everyone else. We think nobody else gets us. We think that we know what we need and what we want and what will correct things. We love our own will and we chase after our lusts.
But the eureka moment, that moment of repentance, showed us something more beautiful about the Father.
The Father knew all this. The Father knew how awful this kid was, how unappreciative and how unloving he was. He knew that the kid was so self-centred and wanting everything for himself. He knew all of this, and what was his response?
He stood, watching and waiting for the moment his son would come home. He ran to him, burst into tears, embraced him in his filth. He hugged his child that smelled like swine and that had wished his own death. He ran to him, and as his son starts reciting the words he had prepared and memorised, cuts him off and says, “Shhhh, shh, none of that kind of talk! Don’t you know you’re my son?” And he restores him. He restores him to his identity. He gives him back his right as a son, he gives him back what the person himself had mocked, despised, and walked away from. He gave him new garments, the garmnets of salvation, the tunic of baptism, the image and likeness of God Himself. He threw a feast for him, he continued to give. This is what love is, it’s to deny oneself for someone else. This Father denies His own rights as father, His rights over His son, His dignity and honour…you name it, He counted it as nothing compared to the joy He had for His son’s return.
I’m sure after this, the son was willing to learn about what it means to be a son. I’m sure after this where was instruction. But that day, there was a celebration.
Wherever you are in life, no matter where you are in the journey, come back. Go home. Don’t worry about fixing yourself. The son came home with his dirty clothes, not with new ones. It’s God who gives us the new clothes, not we to ourselves. Even if you think you are coming for the wrong reasons, it’s okay. Don’t make excuses, don’t say that you’re not doing it for God you’re doing it for yourself. Just come. Return, and let the Father embrace you with the same joy that He received the Prodgal Son. You who are dead, return and live.