17 ‘When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.” 20 So he got up and went to his father. ‘But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms round him and kissed him. 21 ‘The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” 22 ‘But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” So they began to celebrate.
25 ‘Meanwhile, the elder son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 “Your brother has come,” he replied, “and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.” 28 ‘The elder brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” 31 ‘“My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”’
We have all read the parable of the Merciful Father. We have pondered the behaviour of both the elder and younger son, trying to understand which one of them better represents the nature of our own separation from God. Each time we might notice a new detail, a new element of this rich story, that can be of special significance to us and help us see more clearly the face of the ever-loving God.
Augustine "Not with our feet or by traversing great distances do we journey away from you or find our way back. That younger son of yours in the gospel did not hire horses or carriages, nor did he board ships, nor take wing in any visible sense nor put one foot before the other when he journeyed to that far country where he could squander at will the wealth you, his gentle father, had given him at his departure. Gentle you were then, but gentler still with him when he returned in his need. No, to be estranged in a spirit of lust, and lost in its darkness, that is what it means to be far away from your face."
The important message is: wandering away from God is not done physically, but spiritually and in one’s heart. As we move away from God, we become slaves to passions that obstruct God’s face. Augustine points to his desire for fame and the approval of others,for which he was willing to lie, steal, and break rules.
Lord, we are constantly tempted to win the approval of our teachers, employers, and peers, and therefore make seemingly small compromises in order to get what we want. Break our walls down so as to open our hearts to the goodness of the merciful Father, who longs for our return. Amen.