God’s Unfathomable Love for Fallen Prodigals
The Prodigal Son
Fr. Luke A. Veronis
I was in district court this week for several hours and had an opportunity to watch a variety of cases which exemplified fallen humanity. One drug dealer was caught for the second or third time dealing drugs and sentenced to prison. Another man violently abused his girlfriend right in front of his children while under the influence of drugs. There was a well dressed man facing a prison sentence because the police caught him several times driving under the influence of alcohol. And then there were many others who faced minor, and sometimes major offenses.
As I listened to each story, I thought about the victims who suffered, about the perpetrators who committed the crimes, about the children and innocent bystanders who witnessed violent acts, about the sometimes innocent people who became the victim of a fallen judicial system, as well as about the family members and friends who filled the courtroom. A room full of broken people, some of whom society wants to cast away into prison and simply forget about.
Our fallen human nature obviously means that people will make all kinds of bad choices, and sometimes act in evil and vicious ways. When such things happen, our world and society too often want to punish people and simply get rid of them. Some go to jail. Some get probation. Others pay fines. Too often our society views punishment and retribution as the only way to keep law and order intact.
Yet God acts in a very different way. Whenever he sees someone who is fallen and broken, He is NOT interested in punishment and justice. He is NOT interested in revenge and retribution. He is NOT interested in control through fear of chastisement. Instead, God’s unconditional, radical, unfathomable love IS interested in healing and repentance. He IS interested in offering second chances that can lead to new life. As the Scriptures say, “there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over 99 who have no need of repentance.”
The hope of our Lord always looks for the old to become new. God has an unfathomable love for each and every one of His children, even children who have made bad choices and acted in foolish or even evil ways. God unabashedly loves each and every sinner as His beloved children.
Here lies the central message in today’s Gospel story of the Prodigal Son – the lost son who embarrasses and rejects his father and family, runs away from his heavenly home, carelessly wastes his life in extravagant, reckless, and self-indulged living only to end up in the depths of hell, eating the food of pigs and identifying with the swine of the world.
The boy obviously made bad choices. He couldn’t blame anyone else but himself. The boy acted not only foolishly, but even cruelly to his father and others. The young man was a self-centered, egotistical, scoundrel. And yet, His heavenly father passionately loved him with His unconditional and unending divine love. No matter what that boy did, God still viewed him as His beloved child, created in the image and likeness of God, with an unforgotten potential to become a new creation, a child destined to become one with God.
Where the world sees a hopeless case, where they see a person who they think should be forgotten and cast away, God sees as a broken child filled with unending potential, a lost son or daughter who can still discover a new life. God gladly and joyously offers His unfathomable, radical, divine love to bless every fallen, prodigal sinner.
Look at the imagery in today’s story. The younger son despises his father, offends his father, rejects his father, forgets about his father and runs off with his father’s inheritance. In Judaic tradition this was an unforgivable offense. And yet, Jesus reveals how the father patiently and lovingly awaits the return of his son. And once that return occurs, the father holds no grudge, no anger, no rebuke, and no desire for retribution or even justice. Instead, he runs out to his son, lovingly embraces him, showers him with kindness and compassion, and sees only a broken man in need of healing. The father blesses his lost son with full restoration back to his original beauty.
God never desires the death of a sinner but wishes only for his or her return back to their divine destiny. What unfathomable, unconditional, divine love! That is the love that dominates the heart of God. A love whose only desire is for broken humanity to find healing and wholeness and renewal in Him.
Although Jesus told the parable of the Prodigal Son as a fictional story, Holy Scriptures offers numerous examples of real-life prodigals who encounter the radical, unfathomable, unconditional love of God and discover healing and new life through that meeting.
A woman who has had more than five husbands, and who lives in shame and disgrace in her village runs into Jesus’ radical love and finds healing and grace, discovering her self worth and becoming a new and beloved creation in Christ. This Samaritan woman, or St. Fotini as the Church knows her, becomes one of the beloved saints in the early church.
A thief and murderer who faces death by crucifixion from the Romans hangs dying on the cross, yet in his last moments of life, when he comes face to face with the divine love of Jesus, he opens his heart to receive this love and enters into paradise. Imagine, the first one into paradise is a murder and thief!
And of course, there’s the religious fanatic, the one who despises the followers of Jesus so much that he does all he can to persecute and eliminate them, even approving of the murder of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Yet in a totally unexpected and never-imagined moment, Saul runs into the passionate love that only Jesus offers, and allows that love to turn him from a murderer of Christians, to the greatest defender and proclaimer of Jesus Christ. This prodigal Saul becomes the Apostle Paul.
The unfathomable, unconditional, and radical love of God. It has changed numerous lives in Scriptures, and countless lives throughout history. Even for today, for those who are open to receive His love, God is ready to transform and renew whoever comes to Him.
May each of us understand that love, accept it in our own lives, while also sharing such love with everyone we meet.
Our society doesn’t need more prisons to lock people up. We don’t need more punitive justice. Instead, what our society needs is more people to be filled with God’s unfathomable love, people who then go on to share His love with the world around us, helping broken, despised, forgotten people to come back home, as the prodigal son did, and find a new life and new identity as a beloved child of God.