Rev. Fr. Eugene Usifoh
THEME: RETURN FROM THE “FAR COUNTRY”
ISSUE: SIN, REPENTANCE, AND RECONCILIATION
Scripture: Luke 15:11-32 (Story of the Prodigal Son)
As Christians, we are soldiers of Christ. We are fighting against principalities and powers both spiritual and physical. In this process, we experience wear and tear, not meeting expectations and sometimes missing the mark altogether. So we need to tarry a while to heal our wounds and launch anew. The story of the prodigal son reveals this programme. As often as you must have heard this story, it remains fruitful and new. It contains our life’s journey in innocence, sin, redemption and reconciliation.
Sin (Far Country)
Our ultimate goal is to know, love and serve God. Sin, however, disrupts this goal as it brings about separation between us and God (Isaiah 59:1-2). Sin refers to words, deeds and desires contrary to the love of God and neighbour. It is contempt for God because of undue attachment to certain things set against the will of God. Thus, St. Augustine referred to it as energy in the wrong channel i.e. misuse of grace as is the case of the Prodigal Son.
Sin is the ‘Far Country’, where we squander every good that God has given us for selfish motives rooted in pride that begins from our heart. And we begin this journey to the ‘Far Country’ by giving into temptation (Genesis 3:1-6); looking for illusory freedom independent of God and pleasure without control.
Looking at the poor condition of the Prodigal Son, in the far country, living in sin among other effects results in:
- Saps of energy physically and spiritually-Psalm3:10
- Inability to withstand your enemy i.e. Satan-Leviticus 26:27.36.57
- Breaks communion with God and community-Isaiah 59:2
- Withholds and takes away favors-Jeremiah 5:25
- Brings suffering and sickness-Psalm 31:9-10; Isaiah 66:4
- Unanswered prayers-Psalm 66:18-19
- Eternal death-Romans 6:23
- Bondage-John 8:34
In one way or another, we must have made this journey to the far country in our thought, words or deeds through weakness or malice. To say otherwise is to lie (1 John 1:8). The call to repentance by Jesus Christ and his paschal mystery shows the universality of sin and it is a serious matter. As such, examining the consequence of being in sin, the far country, is not a place to be because it offers fitting gratification but unfulfillment, regret and unhappiness. Therefore like the prodigal son, we must leave this place i.e. the far country and go back home to God and be reconciled. St. Augustine says, “Our souls are restless until they rest in you Lord”.
Repentance and Conversion (How to Return)
Jesus began his ministry with the call to repentance as the first step towards God. Repentance suggests change of heart, mind and disposition. It involves making a ‘U-turn’ and forsaking sin. Like sin, repentance begins from the heart by first coming to sound reason (examination of conscience). One must discover what he has lost or deprived himself (i.e. life of grace) by moving to the far country. The Holy Spirit helps us in this regard because he is the principal agent of conversion and forgiveness. It is God who gives repentance and knowledge of the truth-2 Timothy 2:25.
The root of repentance is humility. This is amply exemplified by King David in the Old Testament. Following Jesus’ teachings to repent, we need humility, taking the attitude of a child (Matthew 18:3) and removing all disposition of self-righteousness and presumption (Luke 18:10-14). Also, we need to have hope and trust in the ability of God to save us.
In being contrite, remorse is not sufficient i.e. just being sorry or feeling guilt. Remorse must lead to change as expressed in Luke 15:18, “I will get up/or leave this place and go to my father”. The firm purpose of amendment is necessary i.e. the will power by which the grace of God we must muster through prayer, mortification and practice of values. Repentance is necessary because:
- Necessary for forgiveness and healing-2 Chronicles 7:13-14; Isaiah 55:7
- Makes us acceptable to God and prayers answered-Psalm 66:18-19, 2 Chronicles 30:9
- Freedom-John 8:36
- Save us from harm-Jeremiah 26,; 1 Kings 21:17-29
- Brings righteousness and joy to God-Luke 18:13
- To be fearless in spiritual battles-Job 11:13-15
- Brings life and favours-Job 36:8-11
In summary, as the story of the Prodigal Son affirms, repentance leads from starvation to plenty i.e. grace and communion with God and neighbour. But unrepentance leads to condemnation, wrath and sorrow.
Reconciliation (Back Home)
God’s primary interest is to save us that we may have life. Thus, like the father in the prodigal son story, God is already disposed to accepting the repentant. Psalm 129 say of God, “With you is found forgiveness. For this we revere you”. The forgiving character of God is born out of his love and patience (Roman 3:25). And repentance is the hook to hang on to this free gift of God’s forgiveness.
The embrace of the Father and Son in the prodigal son story is that between God and sinful man in reconciliation. This was made manifest on Calvary as God reconciled the world to himself in Christ – 2 Cor. 15:18. “If the son makes you free, you will be fee indeed” Jn. 8:36. This is the primary mission of Christ, to free us from the clutches of sin, to lead us away from the far country back now into the loving embrace of our waiting God and father.
Though, the prodigal son was repentant, but to strengthen his need for reconciliation with his Father he had to confess, “Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before you . . .” To be reconciled we must confess our sin. Confession is a genuine act of worship and adoration. It prevents the harmful repression of sin and guilt because sin tends to hide in darkness resulting in spiritual discomfort and illness. Confession brings sin into the light before God and community as represented by the Priest. Sincere confession therefore, is a proof of our return from the far country and the gateway to both spiritual and physical healing (Jos. 5:16). To cover sin is to cover prosperity (Pro. 28:13).
The power to effect this reconciliation Sacramentally has been granted to the Church i.e. the body of Christ by her head i.e. Jesus Christ (cf Jn. 20:21 – 23).
After making his confession, the prodigal son said, “I do not deserve to be called you son . . .” This was to show that he was ready to make reparation his misdeeds. In our own quest to return from the far country, we should be ready to make satisfaction for sin as expressed through penance.
In welcoming his prodigal son, the father gave him three things:
- Shoes – Symbolizes sonship not a slave
- Robe – Symbolizes covering his shame i.e. new life
- Ring – Symbolizes covenant and authority
These gifts are signs of been restored. When we are reconciled to God, in his goodness, he restores us to the true dignity as his children. This is our purpose, hope, and joy.
Repentant and reconciliation bear fruits of freedom of the inner man, of the heart. Without this freedom from sin effected by Christ, there cannot be true liberation of our families and society at large. For as long as we are subject to sin, living in the far country, no matter the external cosmetic changes no, real liberation. It is this poverty that Christ frees us from. In being reconciled, we attain the fullness of life (Jn. 10:10).