Sin is disorder. Every sin is a rebellious act against the order established by God. This is God’s universe. He has the sovereign right to order it as he pleases. Curiously enough, every sin disorders the sinner first. That would not be much to worry about except for the fact that moral disorder eventually results in someone’s death. Sin is also an illness of the mind. Often mental patients live in a sort of alternate reality where their illness “sets the rules” so to speak. For those who have to care for the mentally ill, it is very sad to see how those poor individuals hurt themselves. Some mental patients even take their own lives or the lives of others. In the few rare cases when a mental patient recovers completely, the physical and social sequels of the infirmity may remain with him for life.
Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with[c] the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’” (Luke 15:1-32 NRSVCE)
In this well known parable we see the kind of damage sinful behavior can do to a family. First the son asks his father for his part of the inheritance. That must have hurt the father very much. To me it looks like the son could not wait to get his hands on what was rightly his father’s property. Father was not dead yet and had every right to enjoy the fruits of a lifetime of toil. That thought apparently never crossed the mind of his son, who asked for his part as if his father was already dead. Without consideration for the financial effects that would have on the family’s estate, without caring for his own offensive and careless behavior, the prodigal son took off to a distant land, depriving his father even of his presence in the house.
The generosity of the father was commensurate with his fortitude. His son left and not a word of reproach was uttered.
He squandered his property in dissolute living …
Poverty is sometimes the result of a dissolute life. “A fool and his money are soon to part” says the old popular proverb. In fact, no amount of money lasts long in the hands of those seeking illicit pleasure. The second part of Deuteronomy 28 deals with the consequences of disobeying the Law of God. Among them are these terrifying words: “The sky over your head shall be bronze, and the earth under you iron. The Lord will change the rain of your land into powder, and only dust shall come down upon you from the sky until you are destroyed.” (Deuteronomy 28:23-24)
The ungrateful son went seeking the fruits of sin to distant land. He got to enjoy the apparent sweetness of a sinful life only for a little while. In time famine visited the land and soon his fortune dwindled and he ended up taking care of unclean animals.
Having descended to the moral level of the pagans first, now he descended further to a sort of animal-like state: he coveted the food of the pigs under his care. He lost control of his ardent desire for an impure life, reaching a level of mad impurity in which he was completely at the mercy of his appetites.
In that disgraceful state, a last glimmer of light, the call of common sense, reached him. That light came from his own father, who had taught him many good things that later the son grew to despise. “Train children in the right way, even when old, they will not stray.” (Proverbs 22:6)
Moved by his disastrous condition to remember the home he had foolishly left behind, the words of his father made him spring into action. He knew he had lost all honor, he knew he deserved not to be called a son any longer. Depravity and the ensuing privations could not extinguish that small flame in his conscience. He had judged himself according to wisdom and his judgment was right. Yet, he knew that he could still enjoy the fruits of his father’s prudence if he could take the humiliation of returning as a mere servant. Humility is the beginning of wisdom. “When pride comes, then comes disgrace; but wisdom is with the humble.” (Proverbs 11:2)
This son of yours, who has devoured your property with prostitutes …
The bitter words of the obedient son reveal that there is more than one lost sibling in this story. Now the father has to welcome the son who was with him all that time. Although he was at home, that other son was not aware of the love and generosity of the father. So he has to be told how much he is loved. Both sons judged themselves harshly because they did not know their father’s love and they had to learn by experience the depth of his compassion.