After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. He longed to fill his stomach… but no one gave him anything.When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.” So he got up and went to his father.
– Luke 15.14,16-20
Starving. Alone. Penniless.
Not an ideal circumstance!
The younger son has by now become the prodigal son – wasting his wealth and now wasting away himself.
It’s a desperate situation he finds himself in. If nothing changes, it seems that he could well die and be forgotten – nothing more than a distant memory for a family who didn’t know what had become of him.
Sometimes when we are in desperate situations, we can become desperate ourselves. It can be all to easy to get trapped into an illogical spiral of reasoning, to frantically come to conclusions which objectively don’t make much sense.
I rather imagine that as the prodigal son takes the empty bucket of pig slops back to the citizen who hired him he wonders if today’s pay will be enough for a crust of bread. The prices have gone up twice already this week. What’s he going to do if they go up again? He’s already working, there aren’t really any other jobs going or that’s what he’d be doing instead. Maybe he could steal some bread while the baker looks the other way. Though it might be safer to follow a young servant girl and take the bread she’s bought for her master, even if she put up a fight surely he’d be able to overpower her and have enough to eat. Could he do it though? Should he do it? There must be an alternative. Oh, what would his Father say if he could see him now? Wait, his Father? Hmm… he was always so good with his estate, and even the hired men always had plenty of food. What if…?
Perhaps it was as he stared at the small dirty coins in his muddy hands that he ‘came back to his senses’. Perhaps it was a sudden thing, like snapping out of a daydream one hasn’t noticed themselves falling into. Maybe it was a more gradual process, the result of a few days reflection and hard thinking. However it happened, he came back to his senses.
Once he had come back to his senses, once he had come to recognise the foolishness of his circumstances the young son thinks more clearly. For the first time in a long time his mind is clear, he has a sense of clarity which is such a contrast to the slightly crazed thoughts of hunger mixed with pride. He has a sense of clarity which is so much greater than the murkiness of a wine addled head. It is in this state of clarity that he says to himself: “How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.”
His Father’s hired men have food.
He has sinned against his Father,
he cannot expect to be treated as a Son;
but maybe he could be a hired man.
I find it interesting that with this sense of clarity and there is this acknowledgement that he has sinned against Heaven and his Father. More than this, it seems that understanding this clearly means that whilst he is going to appeal to his Father, he is doing so with a degree of integrity and honesty. He hasn’t hatched a malicious plan to tug on his Father’s emotions and to demand that he should be treated as a son again. Rather he will present himself before his father for just judgement; he will no longer be his son, but in his mercy he might be hired for work and so have food.
Perhaps there’s something important for us to think about here. Rather than skipping ahead to the embrace we know is coming soon, maybe we should reflect more on the acknowledgement of our own sin and be willing to bring that sin to our Father to be judged rightly?
Dear Heavenly Father,
I have sinned against you in so many different ways.
May your Holy Spirit,
who dwells within me,
fill me with your light.
Expose unknown or hidden sins to me
and help me to acknowledge them honestly before you.
Guide me, and help me to let you judge me and my sins,
in the name of your Son Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you
in the glory of the Holy Spirit.