The parable of the prodigal son is one of the best-known stories in all the Bible. I’d like to draw your attention to the first turning point in the story, where the younger son is in the middle of his terrible job feeding the pigs, and he realizes he doesn’t have to live like this. Some voice inside him told him that he was made for better than his current situation. He is not where he should be and he is not where he wants to be.
He hears what we know is the voice of God saying to him “I want you to have something better.” That voice says “I want you to be better.” In order to get the something better, which the son describes as being allowed to eat the slop that he’s feeding the pigs, the young man must go to his father and repair the relationship by admitting the truth of what he has done. That’s the action that the young man must take before he can enjoy the fruits of sonship with his loving father.
We see the same thing in the Old Testament reading. The people of Israel are down at the bottom of the mountain fashioning a molten calf to worship while Moses is at the top of the mountain in a personal relationship with God. And the message that Moses will take down the mountain is that the people of Israel should not give in to false gods, but they should have a real relationship with the true God.
And we see in the life story of St. Paul, which he references in the second reading today, that he was once a blasphemer — he tried to persecute the Christians — but now he glories in God’s love and the work of serving his Lord.
It takes time to make a change like this. It took time for the son to make his change: he needed to be uncomfortable for a while, he needed to honestly assess his situation, he needed to want to be better, he needed to work his way back to the father, and he needed to start fresh with his father with full honesty about what he had done and who he had harmed. Likewise, St. Paul spent about 14 years learning with Barnabas before he went out and preached to the Gentiles. So we cannot expect to have the relationship with our Lord that we were made for, and the relationship with our Lord that we want, if we are not willing to give him time and presence. We cannot just declare ourselves Christians and expect no further requirement on our part.
So it takes not only time, but commitment and effort. A few weeks ago, we as a parish made a commitment to praying. Every Catholic is required to go to Sunday mass, but our prayer lives should be much more than that minimum requirement of the Sunday mass obligation. And many of us signed up in some way to increase our commitment to prayer. And today we need to consider making a commitment of time and talent in two ways
- We need to work as hard on understanding of our faith as we do in our prayer life,
- We need to live out our faith in service to each other and in community with each other so that our lives match our prayer life.
Whatever commitment we make to God should not be a one-time thing. Christian conversion is always on-going. Moses and St. Paul didn’t just have one conversion moment, and neither should we. In our prayers, in our intellectual growth, and in our community service, we should renew our commitment to God every day.