Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 (NRSVCE)
The parable of the prodigal son is one I think we all know well. The father divides his property between his two sons. While the older son remains with his father, the younger son takes his share, leaves, and squanders it. He ends up penniless, tending to pigs in the dirt and muck. Finally realizing the direness of the situation he has landed himself in, he heads home and prepares a grand speech to beg for his father’s forgiveness, so that he might at least be allowed to work on his father’s property again. But when he gets there, his father was having no part of his son’s guilt. He welcomed him with open arms and prepared a celebration!
How many times have we gone astray in our faith? How many times have we squandered the gifts that God has given us? When we return to God, repentant and filled with guilt, He is like the father in this parable. He does not hesitate in His forgiveness. He welcomes us with open arms and great joy, for His child was lost and is found! Our sins are forgiven, and we are welcomed anew into the life of Christ.
There are many ways in which we can sympathize with the prodigal son. We all sin and we all need forgiveness. Think about how the weight of that sin weighs on you right up to the point of seeking forgiveness. For me, stepping into the confessional is one of the most difficult things, because I know there will be that overpowering sense of guilt that will come over me. I know that I have sinned, but in my every day life I can put it out of my mind. I can distract myself. But here’s the thing: God is the source of all goodness, the source of all holiness. As we approach that source we become painfully aware of just how unworthy we are of it. Our sin stands in stark contrast to the goodness of God. And while our sin can be hidden from others, and even from ourselves, before God our sins are laid bare, the ways in which we fall short cannot be hidden. This is the guilt that the prodigal son felt, as he approached his father for forgiveness. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son,” he says.
Now think about the moment after you have gone to God for forgiveness. You realize that all of that guilt, that overpowering sense of unworthiness, did not matter to God. He is not interested in your guilt. He cares that you have come home. So as difficult as it is to seek forgiveness, to feel the weight of that guilt, we know that our Father is there to rejoice with us that we have returned. We were lost, but we have been found.