Luke 15:1-32 (Fourth Sunday of Lent)
Two planetary scientists from Caltech recently proposed the existence of a ninth planet in our solar system. They inferred its presence from the particular wobble of six other objects beyond the orbit of Neptune. Yet to be seen, Planet X with a mass of 10 earths is supposed to be at the outermost perimeters of our neighborhood, orbiting the sun every 15,000 years.
When you gaze at the night sky peppered with those little white dots, I wonder if you wonder whether all this is necessary. I mean, when you come to look at this canvas of asteroids and comets, galaxies and quasars and black holes, do you not sometimes ask, are all these necessary? Even if there were life in some “galaxy, far, far away”, if only for our own, wouldn’t eight planets spinning about one star suffice?
I could, if I were God, be more judicious in the use of resources (i.e. matter and energy), tweak the mass of the sun to achieve gravitational balance and come up with actually one earth, just add water, and earthlings would still come to life. And while we’re at it, might as well take the moon out. No need for tides when the seas are rising anyhow.
Prodigal can mean many things: wasteful, extravagant, lavish, liberal, unsparing, improvident. The one I find picturesque is “overboard”. Cup running over; wine brimming the lip, more than enough, more than what we’ll ever need.
The story of the prodigal son is the story of things going overboard. It is the story of the son’s freedom going overboard, the son choosing to spin out of orbit, and the father letting go. It is the story of someone wronged, who chooses to stay outside and wait for love to return. It is the story of a father’s mercy and joy going overboard, the story of love dying and rising, of God going overboard.
The radical truth that is being told us in the story is nothing strange to someone who has ever loved. It is the lover who seeks out the beloved. It is God who runs after the runaway child. We can suppose all our lives that it is we who are in search of God who is elusive and oblique. In this story, we are told that we are the ones who hide and choose to stay outside.
And for some strange reason, we keep ourselves opaque and hidden until something brings us to our senses. Matauhan is the one Filipino word that captures that moment quite meaningfully. This sensing moment need not be as sensational, as dramatic as the prodigal child’s. This moment of conversion begins with a confession, an honest admission that we have wounded and are wounded, that we are lost and hungry and alone.
There is nothing like night to bring us to our senses. Surely there are times we are tempted to curse the darkness and suspect the universe to be impersonal and indifferent to our existence. We can allow curse to beget curse, and so become impersonal and indifferent ourselves to our own selves and to one another.
Or we can let those little lights that glow in the dark lead us to wonder at the extravagance, the prodigality of it all. We are here even if it is not necessary that we be here. With the prodigal son, we can ponder the emptiness we have brought upon ourselves. And without wallowing in the dark, we can wonder again, “How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger.”
Coming to our senses, we can summon the courage to stop hiding and running away, to rise from the night and return at last to the One who has been seeking us out from all eternity. It need not be dramatic or sensational, it can even be tentative, the first step we take to return again and again to the love that waits for us. What matters more is that we can mean the return, we can mean the desire to come home.
The story of the prodigal son tells us that God does go overboard. That may be hard to believe. If the universe and that ninth planet are any indication, surely we have more than enough galaxies to get by. If the cross of Christ is any indication, surely there is more than enough mercy here, love going overboard, more than we’ll ever need.
This homily first appeared in the column “God’s Word Today” of the Philippine Star.