Prodigal’s return represents turning back to God

in the beginning
Father Mike Stubbs is the pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park and has a degree in Scripture from Harvard University.

by Father Mike Stubbs

It’s the same old story. Someone leaves home. While away, they endure many hardships. Eventually, they return home, and all is peachy keen.

Sunday’s first reading, Dt 26:4-10, refers to a significant example of this pattern. The person offering a sacrifice to God recalls the experience of the Hebrew people that follows that pattern. 

Joseph and his brothers had left their home in the Promised Land because of famine and traveled to Egypt where there was food: 

“My father was a wandering Aramean who went down to Egypt with a small household and lived there as an alien.” 

They settled down there and many generations of their descendants grew and prospered in Egypt: 

“There he became a nation great, strong and numerous.” Eventually, a cruel Pharaoh subjected them to harsh treatment: “The Egyptians maltreated and oppressed us, imposing hard labor upon us.” 

Under Moses’ leadership, they returned to the Promised Land: “We cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and he heard our cry and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. He brought us out of Egypt with his strong hand and outstretched arm.”

This pattern of leaving, enduring hardships while away and then returning home is repeated centuries later for the Israelite people. 

When the Babylonian Empire conquers the Israelites, they are carried into exile. While in captivity, they endure many hardships. But eventually, under a new administration, they are allowed to return home to rebuild their nation. 

These examples show this pattern on a nationwide level of leaving home, enduring hardships while away and then returning home. 

But the New Testament offers an example on an individual level. The prodigal son runs away from home, only to end up with a dead-end job as a swineherd, which leaves him destitute. He returns home to the loving embrace of his compassionate father (Lk 15:11-32).

The parable of Jesus allows us to consider the action of leaving home — not as a reasonable economic decision or a bad turn of fate but, rather, as a willful turning away from God. Leaving home is taking a detour on the spiritual journey. 

Similarly, returning home can then represent turning back to God, being restored to God’s graces. 

The story of the fall depicts our first parents as being driven out of paradise because of their sin. They are condemned to a life of misery and despair. In that, they stand for all human beings, who have fallen into sin and its sorrow. Like them, we yearn for paradise, our true home. 

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