+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
You Can't Go Home Again is a novel by Thomas Wolfe published posthumously in 1940. The novel tells the story of George Webber, a fledgling author, who writes a book that makes frequent references to his home town of Libya Hill. The book is a national success but the residents of the town, unhappy with what they view as Webber's distorted depiction of them, send the author menacing letters and death threats.
“But why (writes Wolfe) had he always felt so strongly the magnetic pull of home, why had he thought so much about it and remembered it with such blazing accuracy, if it did not matter, and if this little town, and the immortal hills around it, was not the only home he had on earth? He did not know. All that he knew was that the years flow by like water, and that one day men come home again.”
Thomas Wolfe left us with a bit of conventional wisdom that says you can’t really go home again. It’s usually around Christmas time or some other holiday that people wonder if that little bit of conventional wisdom might actually be true. Change happens. Your parents get older. You get older. Your opinions change. Your likes and dislikes change. Traditions and customs change. Everything changes. So you can never really go back home because the home you once left isn’t the home you return to.
The story of the prodigal son is a homecoming story. The prodigal, as you know, left home when he was a relatively young man. Apparently, he was itching to live his life on his own terms, without all the trappings, if you will, of the family structure. In his mind, he was ready to venture out and spread his wings. At his request, his father divided the inheritance that would eventually go to him and his older brother. Judging by the rest of the parable, the young man’s inheritance was likely pretty sizable.
Freedom though, without wisdom and sound judgment, is not all it’s cracked up to be. The prodigal found that out pretty quickly. What must have seemed to him like an inextinguishable amount of money was used up pretty fast on reckless living. We are told that he “squandered” his inheritance, which means he didn’t use any discernment whatsoever ever in spending it. He bought whatever his heart desired in a futile effort to find whatever it was he was looking for, happiness, or, contentment, or, something else altogether.
When he had spent everything he had, his entire inheritance, he found himself destitute. In fact, things got so bad that he wound up working in troughs on someone’s farm, feeding pigs. Assuming the young prodigal was Jewish, there wasn’t a job more degrading than slopping pigs. “He (longed) to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, (but) no one gave him anything.”
It was at that moment that his heart turned and he began to wonder if he could go back home. He remembered fondly what he had left behind. He remembered that even the servants in his father’s house had enough bread to eat and, there he was, unable to eat even the pods that were fed to the pigs.
He “came to himself,” we’re told. It’s an interesting turn of phrase. What does it mean that the young prodigal “came to himself?” At this point I suppose we’d like to think it means he repented, that he was sorry for what he had done and that, more than anything, he wanted the forgiveness of his father. It’s not clear though that that’s what it means in this case. In fact, it seems that the young man still had up his sleeve a way to get back into his father’s good graces by his own works, or, his own effort. He rehearses the plan in his mind. I’ll say to my father, “treat me as one of your hired servants.” In other words, I’ll work for you if you’ll just give me something to eat and take care of me!
It sounded like a reasonable plan, but could the prodigal son really go back home? After all, his father likely hired servants because of the work they could do, not because they were needy. Wouldn’t his father be angry with him anyway? Could he forget that, not too long ago, his young son so desperately wanted to leave home and get away from him? Had too much changed for the prodigal to return home?
It’s at this point that the parable transitions from a very tragic human story to a divine homecoming. The father in the story is none other God himself, which means the two sons are children of God. The prodigal is the one who wandered away from his father’s house in search of something better. In that case, the prodigal is you and me too, in that we often look for fulfillment in life outside of the inheritance that is ours in Christ Jesus.
Years ago, on my vicarage I met a man who, at the time, was probably in his late 60’s or early 70’s. He had been confirmed in the Lutheran Church as young man. However, between his confirmation and the moment I met him, he hadn’t really spent much time at all in church. In fact, you could say he was one of those Christians who went to church twice a year whether they needed to or not. Circumstances in his life though had shaken him to the core. And so, there he was, sitting in my office asking about coming home.
The question is, can you ever really go back home? Conventional wisdom says no, but God says YES! When the prodigal was on his way back home, when was still a long way off, that is, when he was stumbling back toward home, perhaps still rehearsing his proposed reconciliation scenario in his mind, his father saw him. And when he “saw him (He) felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”
Imagine that!! God, His heavenly Father, saw him off in the distance and HE RAN to him! He ran to receive him home, to make him an heir again of an unimaginably gracious inheritance. “He said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”
The father treated His son as royalty. Everything his son had done was forgiven and forgotten. The father, you see, doesn’t change. He is always the loving and caring and compassionate father. And He always receives His dear children through the atoning work of His only-begotten Son, the Son that is of the same substance as He, the Son that is God in the flesh, the Son that takes away the sins of the world!
What the parable of the prodigal son tells us, what it tells you, is that YOU CAN GO BACK HOME! In fact, when a sinner repents and returns to the Father, it is a happy day, a glorious day, a day to celebrate, a day to rejoice and give thanks. Indeed, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” The sacrifice has been offered and the banquet table has been set because you are home in the house of your father! In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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