Coming to his senses...

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

(Scriptures for today's liturgy)

The four pivotal words in this passage are these:
"Coming to his senses..."

“Coming to his senses the son thought,

‘How many of my father’s hired workers
have more than enough to eat, but here am I,
dying from hunger?’”

If the story of the prodigal son were a comic strip
this is where there’d be a light bulb over his head,
indicating that he’d just had a great idea.

This is the younger son’s moment of conversion,
his turning point,
his “Duh! - I could be having a V-8!”
and the light comes on!

The son’s conversion has several dimensions.

First of all: he’s embarrassed and ashamed.
He’s a Jewish man whose job is slopping and feeding the pigs:
pork everywhere!

Second: he’s hungry!
He’s so hungry that he would eat the garbage the pigs are eating -
but he’s not allowed even that.

Third: he’s a clever son of a gun!
He figures he needs to sweet-talk his dad into taking him back
so he prepares a speech:
“Oh, father! I no longer deserve to be called your son!
Just treat me like one of your hired hands”
(who get three squares a day and a bed to sleep in at night!).

The son’s intentions might be as much a matter of self-preservation
as self-incrimination -- or a little of both.
But the son’s motives don’t matter to the father!
He doesn’t need to be sweet-talked.

And that may be the most important part of the story!

The father doesn’t care WHY the son came home:
the father only cares THAT his son came home.
The father was not waiting for his son’s speech.
The father was only waiting for - his son!
“While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him,
and was filled with compassion.

He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.”

The father was out watching and waiting
long before his son “came to his senses.”

And such is God’s love for us
and here's why Jesus tells this story:
long before we “come to our senses”
and leave behind whatever our foolishness might be,
- God is watching for us, waiting for us,
waiting to welcome us home.

What foolishness, what foolish choices and decisions,
have been shaping my life?

Where do I need to honestly confront my own circumstances,
turn around and head in a new direction?

Where do I need that light-bulb-moment before God?

Have I, like the son in the story,
wasted or been selfish with the gifts I’ve received?
Rather than giving and sharing,
am I often grabbing more and more for myself?
for my family? my company?

Have I, like the son in the story,
fed hungers within me that were not healthy?
Have I been starving for something I truly need,
something that would truly nourish me?

Have I, like the son in the story,
been tending only to my own desires
forgetting the needs of family and friends?

Where does the light bulb need to go on over my head?
In my parish, in my work? In my marriage, my family?
At school, at work? In my community?
In my dream life? in my prayer life?

Perhaps I would “come to my senses” if I asked:
- what have I squandered?
- whom have I neglected?
- what hungers have I been feeding?
- what hungers truly need to be fed?
- where is my heart’s real home?
- how will I make my way there?
- what must I leave behind to go home?
- whose embrace does my heart need and seek?

When, where and how, this Lent,
do I need to “come to my senses?”

Do I trust that God is waiting for me?
that God is waiting, not to condemn me,
but to embrace me?

Will I trust that no matter the reason
for my turning my heart around
God will joyfully welcome me home?

Or will I be like the older brother
and brood, and stew in my own juices,
failing to see the light when it dawns?

This story ends with a feast to which are invited:
a selfish, wasteful, ungrateful younger son
and a jealous, angry, stubborn older brother.

Perhaps that feast is not unlike our own table here
to which are invited the likes of us:
- in many ways and in different ways,
we are all prodigal sons and daughters;
- in many ways and in different ways,
we are all older brothers and sisters,
- all sinners looking for a place at our Father’s table...
the Father who watches and waits
for each of us to come home,
even before we come to our senses...

Images: BD and GD

Subscribe to A Concord Pastor Comments


  1. Where did you get that light bulb?!! ( or should I say the light of the world?)

    Just Brilliant (excuse the pun!).

    No problems with global warming here then.

    I wish we had one of these to carry round with us in the dark night of the soul.


  2. I thought your homily was wonderful, one of your best! Loved the prop! Are you going to use it for the "Light is on for You" initiative? It could be a bit intimidating for a penitent. On the other hand, it certainly would break the ice!


  3. The "light bulb" is actually a plastic coin-bank which I bought years ago at Spencer Gifts (a US chain).

    The "socket" part unscrews to let you get your coin out. I unscrewed it and fitted it with a real light bulb in a socket on an electical cord and then plugged that into another cord which had an on-off switch on it which I taped to the ambo.

    In preaching this homily I turned the light on/off at in different places to emphasize the point of our "coming to our senses."

    Glad to hear that Ireland won!

  4. Great homily, and you can do electrical work!


  5. Try meditating on the other son. In fact, I think a homily could be given on him.


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