First reading Exodus 32:7-11,13-14
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 50(51):3-4,12-13,17,19
Second reading 1 Timothy 1:12-17
Gospel Luke 15:1-32
In the book of Genesis, when Adam and Eve turned away from God by committing the very first sin, do you remember what they did immediately afterwards? They hid themselves. They hid from each other by sowing fig leaves together to cover their bodies, and they “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Gen 3:8). Then, something fascinating happens: ‘The Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “where are you?”’ Why do you think God asked this question? Do you think the God who had created the whole universe didn’t know which bush Adam and Eve were hiding behind? Of course God knew! When God asks a question in the Scriptures, it’s never because God doesn’t know the answer. It was the man and the woman themselves who did not know where they were! Dear brothers and sisters, this is what sin does to us. It disables our ability to truly see our neighbour, to see God, and to see ourselves. In a very real sense, it gets us lost.
We see this same pattern played out in our Gospel this weekend wherein Jesus describes the way in which he goes in search of the lost. First, he uses the parable of the lost sheep, then that of the lost coin, and finally that profound parable of the lost or “prodigal” son. Consider this. When we say we’ve lost something, we usually mean that we don’t know where it is. We see this meaning in the case of the first two parables, wherein the shepherd goes in search of the one sheep whose whereabouts is unknown to him. The second parable too describes a woman profusely searching for something which at some point has assumed an unknown location. Can this really be the case for Jesus? Can our Lord ever fail to know where we are, despite the depths of sin we are capable of falling into? Certainly not! In fact, when we are lost in sin, the Lord is the only one who really knows where we are. It’s we who no longer know where we are! When we wander away from Jesus and plunge into sin, we are lost to ourselves. We become deluded about who we really are as children of God. And this is precisely what we see captured in the parable of the Prodigal Son.
The younger son abandons his family, his homeland and his faith. We see this indicated first by the fact that he asks for his inheritance while his father is still alive. In other words, his dad might as well be dead to him. With eyes fixated on money and the life of excitement and pleasure that the money promised to provide him, he leaves behind both his family and home country to set off “for a distant country.” This sense of distance is important. He’s far off from where he belongs, and there he destroys himself while watching his fleeting cash and pleasure abandon him. He’s left alone, starving in the mire of the pig pen where he hires himself out to a foreigner to feed the pigs. Furthermore, we’re told he even desired to eat what the pigs were eating. These details give us the sense that he has now hit rock bottom. Consider this. Pigs are a detestable and unclean animal in the Jewish religion. Furthermore, the Hebrew people are a race chosen by God and separated from other nations. For he, a Jew, to be feeding the pigs of a foreigner, indicates a deep level of disgrace and alienation from his faith and culture. Finally, the fact he wished to eat with the pigs heightens the sense of alienation when we consider that to eat with somebody is to have communion with them. In his terrible state he even desired communion with what is unclean and detestable. Sin obscures not only our vision, but also our desires.
Then, something spectacular happens. The text says, “he came to his senses.” In Greek, it literally says, “he came into himself” (Εἰς ἑαυτὸν δὲ ἐλθὼν), which implies that he was not in himself. Not only did he not know where he was in the scheme of things, but he no longer knew who he was. The first thing he remembers upon “coming into himself” is that he has a father who can provide for him – “how many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want…” Ah! He has a father. What is more, he acknowledges his sin, which we see in the way he recites his apology. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you…” Now comes a turning point which is lost in our Jerusalem Bible translation. In the original Greek, which shows up in some other English translations, it literally says, “he got up (ἀναστὰς) and went towards his father.” This is a beautiful and important detail. The word for “get up” or “rise” is the same word used to denote the resurrection of Jesus. Upon remembering his father and acknowledging his sin, he rises from the death and filth of the pig pen, beginning his return to where he belongs. The next part is just as beautiful. Our prodigal does not go the whole way. His father, who had been waiting for him every single day, saw him “while he was still a long way off” – again the sense of distance is important – and ran to him. His father does the rest of the work of his repentance, holding him in his arms and kissing him tenderly before adorning him with the marks of his sonship and celebrating his return. “This son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.”
Dear friends, there’s much more to be said, particularly regarding the older brother whose self-righteousness and jealousy excludes him from his father’s joy. But for now, we must be content with the “resurrection” and the “finding” of this son who had previously found himself as dead and as lost as one could possibly be. In the same way, our Lord, who always knows who and where we are, though we may fail to know, desires that each of us “come into ourselves” and “get up”. The key for us, brothers and sisters, is to remember to whom we belong, which will tell us who we are. We are sons and daughters of our Father in heaven. We belong to him, and he yearns for us. Know that if and when you find yourself in the mud of the pig pen, up to our necks in sin, the remembrance of God will be the first step towards healing. Then, with eyes fixed on the one who loves us, he will give us the courage to “get up”, face and confess our sin, and begin our journey home. Rest assured, he will already be waiting with such longing and tenderness. Let us then hear the Lord’s beckoning words to Adam “where are you?” With these words the Lord calls us back to him always. So where am I? Where am I in the scheme of things? Am I hiding from God and from myself, blinded by my sins? Lord, grant us the grace to see.