The Prodigals Amongst Us
When he [the prodigal son] 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 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.” ’ (Luke 15:14-19)
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.’ (Luke 15: 20 -21)
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. (Luke 15: 22-24)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As we grow older and experience more of the evils that this fallen world throws at us, we will all without doubt, encounter those whom we would classify as “prodigals”. That is, someone who has deserted his/her Christian roots in their futile and misdirected attempt to find “fulfillment” in the enticements that the fallen world system offers.
The “Classical” Prodigals
Of course the term “prodigal” is best understood by the allegorical tale that Jesus told about a young man, one of two heirs to his fathers’ estate, who decided to seek independence from his father and take his share of the estate to “become his own man”, so to speak, and make a future for himself in the world system. What he found in the world was not the freedom and independence he envisioned but rather an enslavement to the world and its vices and evils. Instead of fulfillment he experienced spiritual hunger and desolation; instead of being fed he found himself feeding the pigs of his own fallen nature. It was through this experience and disillusionment with the world, that he finally “came to his senses” and said to himself, “I will return to my father’s house, maybe he will take me on as a servant…”. His father, who had been expectantly waiting for his return was waiting for him and when he saw him on the way he ran to meet him, lovingly embraced him, and fully restored him as a “son” and not as a servant. (Read the story for yourselves: Luke 15:11-32)
In his day Jesus told his disciples this story to illustrate that the Love the Heavenly Father had for His sons was not dependent on their mere performance of their family duties but because they were under covenant relationship; they were legitimate heirs and truly his “sons” – sons, because of how they were related to Him by covenant and birth, NOT by how they performed their duties. The implied condition is that both brothers had a personal covenant relationship with the father to start with, and the story deals with how one of the sons, while still under covenant, distanced himself from the father, and how upon his sincere repentance was accepted back into his covenant relationship with the father because of the father’s unconditional and loving acceptance of his son’s act of repentance. Repentance is critical to the prodigal’s acceptance. Of course, his act of returning to his father was THE demonstration of his repentance and that was the only thing the father was waiting for – it was all that mattered, and that is why on-going repentance (through confession) is critical to us!
In telling the story, Jesus especially wanted to point out to the Pharisees who were present in the audience that tax collectors, prostitutes, and other outcasts remained part of the old testament religious covenant system relationship to the Father, and, were as much God’s children as those who legalistically followed the religious requirements of the Mosaic Law. He wanted to make it clear that God was just as eager to receive them back into covenant relations as His children as those who remained compliant to the Law, if not more so.
The story also points out, that the Father longs to reach out to those who, although being His sons and daughters, leave His care to seek their own way in life. He lovingly waits for them, so that they, through their mistaken dip into the world of sin, would realize their error and return to Him in repentance so that He might envelop them and restore them in His Love. Because He loves them He does not interfere with their choices using their own free will, but rather, waits until they taste what the world offers (and what it does not) so they can experience for themselves that the Father is the only one who can satisfy their spiritual hunger and discover their true self in Him. And, so as a result of coming to their spiritual senses, they will freely repent and return to Him once they have realized their error, appreciating all the more what they left behind in their Father’s house.
Of course, when we come across such “prodigals’ in our day-to-day experiences, it is not for us to judge them, but rather, pray that the Holy Spirit would hover over them so that, by whatever means, He, the Holy Spirit, may “bring them to their senses”, permitting them to repent and return to the arms of the Father. Normally, this type of intercession requires spiritual warfare because the reason many of our brothers and sisters depart from our Christian religious traditions is not only to erroneously seek self-fulfillment but also because they have been deceived by the lies of the enemy and/or hurt and abused in our families, in our fellowships, and in our churches, for which we also need to repent so that we are not impediments to their return
The “Hidden” Prodigals
More importantly, we need to realize that the story of the “prodigal” may also be our story, although, this realization may have been, until now, hidden from our hearts. Yes, “hidden”, because in our self-righteousness, as the other brother in the story, we did not think of ourselves as separated from the Father because we had been faithful in the performance of our religious obligations, but not in the desires of our “hearts”. That is, in regard to our spirits (hearts) we, in fact, were as far from the Father as the other brother. Yes, we considered ourselves as religiously compliant but were doing it with the wrong motives. We were obedient for what we could get out of our religious performance rather than as a result of manifesting our love for the Father Himself – for who He is, our Creator, Our Father, and Our Savior. He is the HOLY ONE, the lover of our souls.
He freely embraces us with His Love because He desires to Love us as His Children of Covenant and not because of our insincere religious acts and devotions! While we were yet sinners He loved us and sent His Son to die for us as the ultimate manifestation of His Love! Thus, through our impure motives, we, like the Prodigal, also distance ourselves from a true relationship with the Father – a relationship to which he is now urging us to return.
So, before we pray for what I call the “classical Prodigals”, we need to examine ourselves as to where we stand in our relationship to God. Are we merely paying “lip service” to God by practicing our religion because it is culturally of intellectually comfortable for us, or have we come to a true conversion in our lives where we have personally encountered the Father through Jesus, who is the Way to the Father? Are we using compliance with religious rules and regulations as a fig leaf to cover our spiritual nakedness?
Or, on the other hand, have we come to the point in our lives where our spirits have been revived to where we can truly say that we can worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth, as Jesus asked of the Samaritan woman (John 4:23-24)? Can we truly say that we discern the move and leadings of the Holy Spirit in our lives John 3:6-8)? And, in loving obedience to His call, do we have a steady personal spiritual prayer relationship with the Godhead? If not, then I think that we should consider the possibility that we may in fact be “hidden Prodigals” ourselves and the Lord is calling you right now to turn back to Him in repentance with a sincere and faithful heart! Remember! He is waiting, just waiting for you to say to yourself, “I have been deceiving myself long enough, I will return to my father’s house …”. He is waiting with open arms to embrace you and restore you as a SON, how can you refuse?
Now, brothers and sisters, I am making this plea, not as someone apart from you all. No, in fact, it is from my own fig-leaf experience as a “hidden prodigal” that I speak. Yes, I am one of you, an elder brother who, in the past, justified himself by saying, “ I have served Him all these years… “
I was like the prodigal’s brother. Who didn’t want to enter the party that the father had thrown for his younger brother when he returned home. I speak as a cultural religionist who thought that I was living the “Christian” life, who kept all the rules (well, at least so I thought). I was married to a wonderful Christian woman and we parented two wonderful children who we were sending through the Catholic school system. My uncle was a Jesuit priest and I was in the Catholic educational system through my first years at University. I attended worship services weekly with my family and did all that was required of us in the Church community.
However, I was a prodigal and didn’t know it. Without realizing it, I had given my heart to another master, another god who ruled my life and my desires. This “god” was My career! My profession! My personal ambitions and pride! (notice how often I use the term “MY”) . Yes, in all appearance, I was doing all that my religion required but I was very far from the Father! I was seeking my own self-fulfillment in what I was doing and achieving. My heart was dedicated to intellectual pride in what my achievements in the engineering profession offered, I was serving an evil master and spiritually I was far removed from the Father who was calling and waiting for me. I was feeding the pigs of my own ambition and getting nowhere fast!
Then, the Lord in His compassion, through the excesses I was putting my mind and my body through, permitted me to come down with walking pneumonia. I was hospitalized and then ordered to medication and bed rest for two weeks. It was during this time the Lord began to speak to my heart. First of all through the loving care my wife provided and then through some leaflets she placed at my bedside regarding a priest who was giving a series of lectures on the Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church.
Since I had very little to do as I lay in bed, I began to read these leaflets and, catching my interest, I asked my wife to bring me the Bible my dad had given to me upon graduation from High School. A bible I kept as a memento but had never read. But now, every word and every chapter of the Gospels and the Book of Acts leapt out to my spirit as I tried to reconcile what the leaflets and scripture were saying with respect to Jesus, the Father, the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and Eternal Life. The more I read from the Bible the more the Spirit spoke to my heart and I became spiritually hungry, very hungry, not only for the WORD but for the Promise of the Spirit and a closer more intimate relation to the Father, through His Son, Jesus.
Again, the Lord used my wife, she suggested upon my recovery that we attend a spiritual retreat being given by the same priest who had spoken at our parish. Because the Lord was already working in me, I somehow sensed this meeting would lead me to the spiritual uplift I was sensing I needed. I was not wrong. It was toward the end of this retreat, inspired by the teaching and preaching of the Word that I repented, asking and receiving Jesus into my heart as my Lord and My savior. In asking to receive the Baptism of the Spirit, I received a word indicating that such would be forthcoming but I needed further inner preparation. Indeed two week later on Pentecost Sunday night my wife heard of a group that was meeting for the very purpose of receiving the Promise of the Spirit. Again the Lord permitted me to be Baptized in the Spirit and to begin speaking in other tongues and given other charismatic gifts to share with the community.
Spiritually, I began a new Life, I experienced some very intimate times with my Lord Jesus in prayer and was given some very personal consolations and revelations that turned my whole life upside down. I was indeed a new creature in Christ Jesus and He introduced me to the Father, so that I could truly experience Him as a SON! Blessed be His Name forever!
The first few months were extremely extraordinary. So much so, that I have not sufficient words to express myself, the most I can do is to share with you a poem that came to me during this period (see below). I pray that my witness to His Love will encourage you other hidden prodigals to follow me and answer His Call to return Home to the Father. He is waiting for you too!
Your Brother and Fellow Pilgrim In Christ Jesus ….. Bartimaeus
As One From a Dream Awakens
As one from a dream awakens,
So the day I came to the light of life.
As the whirlwind of the Spirit entered,
The door to my soul opened wide.
It broke through the shell of self, erected
To defend the self against the embrace of Love,
…. That Eternal Love for which my soul was made.
Oh ! I built my defenses well!
In my narcissist enclave all was to justify the Self.
All I said and did was well under the control
Of reason and science and intellectual disdain,
Of a measured theology and attitude profane,
But sorely wanting of the very thing from which I fled,
…. That Eternal Love for which my soul was made.
But then as if from nowhere, I heard …
A word that pierced and shook me to my very depths
A word that revealed the sham that I was living
A word that deflated my ego and my pride
It told me that nothing in me was worthy
But that He who Loves me, died that I might have
…. That Eternal Love for which my soul was made.
As into my heart His Word descended,
I was overcome by the intensity of His Love.
As His Love called out to me and sought me,
Willingly, I ceded self to its manifold embrace,
Basking in the warmth of His Compassion, the Mercy of His Grace,
Asking only that He renew and restore me, to receive more of
…. That Eternal Love for which my soul was made.
© Bartimaeus, BRTimeo and quietplace4prayer, [2003-2012].