While he was still a long way of, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
– Luke 15:20
We all know the story of the Prodigal Son. It is (as Msgr. Charles Pope says here) almost “overly familiar”.
At mass today Fr. Dyspeptic -my favorite homilist, because he is scholarly but witty, and always blessedly brief- suggested that it is easy for us to identify with either of the sons, the prodigal or the ignored-feeling obedientiary, who has toiled in his father’s field, “but the story is not about either of them. It’s about the father.
The father who created you in his image, and loved you enough to give you free will; the father who steps out daily and casts his eyes upon the horizon, looking for you to come back. The father who “does not allow cultures or conventions to dictate his responses,” but who -when he sees you returning- cannot hold himself back, but instead runs to meet you and pulls you into his embrace, and blesses you.
The father who says “come back. I am here. I am waiting for you to return.”
Fr. Dyspeptic is not a parent, obviously, but he understands the unconditional and very vulnerable love of the parent. He understands that God -our divine and mystical parent- shares with human parents this endless longing to have our children near, even as we face their grown-up choices. Our children do not stay with us; they leave the nest. They develop their own sensibilities, sometimes in direct contrast to our own. Even if they are near, they distance themselves, and that is normal, and healthy; they need to discover for themselves all they do not know.
But we miss them. And we fret that even though we’ve taught them to swim, they may be facing more dangerous currents than they can handle, have moved too far from the safe shore. We toss and turn on wet pillows some nights, wishing them well, hoping they’ll be borne back on the tide, and land at our doors. We pray for them, and in the wee small hours we talk to photographs of their six-year old, smiling faces, and we say, “You are far away from us; you’ve chosen a distant path, but I will not give up on you. You are forever my beloved child.”
And God is sharing in that, on a meta-level. “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart…”
This is not the first time we have seen the Almighty God consenting to be vulnerable, out of love, to his own Creation, and the people of his covenant:
God yielded to Israel’s obstinacy.
This is remarkable, almost reckless love. This is a love so all-in-all, so unconditional, that it is willing to be not just vulnerable, but almost -by human standards- foolish in its boundless unconditional reality. Look at the profundity of God’s love for His people, Israel, and for those of us grafted onto their branch. . . . God takes pity on human limitations and tries another way of teaching and reaching; a better way to know the transcendence. He says, in essence:
“My love and my law are not enough? You need a corporeal king? Alright then, I will come down and be your corporeal king. I will teach you what I know -that love serves, and that a king is a servant- and I will teach you how to be a servant in order to share in my kingship. In this way, we shall be one -as a husband and wife are one- as nearly as this may be possible between what is Whole and Holy, and what is Broken. For your sake, I will become broken, too, but in a way meant to render you more Whole, and Holy, so that our love may be mutual, complete, constantly renewed and alive. I love you so much that I will Incarnate, and surrender myself to you. I will enter into you (stubborn, faulty, incomplete you, adored you, the you that can never fully know or love me back) and I will give you my whole body. I will give you all of myself, unto my very blood, and then it will finally be consummated between us, and you will understand that I have been not just your God, but your lover, your espoused, your bridegroom. Come to me, and let me love you. Be my bride; accept your bridegroom and let the scent and sense of our love course over and through the whole world through the church I beget to you. I am your God; you are my people. I am your bridegroom; you are my bride. This is the great love story, the great intercourse, the great espousal, and you cannot imagine where I mean to take you, if you will only be faithful . . . as I am always faithful.”
This God of Abraham, this King, this One who Ravishes will give us anything, if we only trust, even though we do not understand -will never understand- what it is he has in mind for us. We have never understood. We have never been faithful.
We have never been faithful. We are the perpetually adolescent children, even in our old age, of the God who Is Unconditional Love.
The God who puts each new day forward, eager to reconcile, and awaiting our return.
Benedict XVI: We Contemplate the Father’s Heart in the Parable