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The Prodigal Son
There is an old Cherokee Indian legend. At one time you could not become a man unless you had a rite of passage. Each tribe had what they considered to be the task that needed to be done. The Cherokee father would escort his son into the deepest parts of the forest where a massive stump was. He would be instructed to sit on the stump, he would be blindfolded and told that he must spend the whole night and not remove the blindfold until the rays of the sun shined through it. He was told that he could not cry out for help and once he had done this he would finally be a man. He was instructed to never tell anyone of the experience because each boy had to come to his own by himself.
Could you imagine how terrified the boy was? All the noises that filled the forest, surely wild beasts must be near. Maybe a rival tribe was near and a warrior would come to do him harm. The wind would whip through the forest and shake the stump. But he would have to sit steadfast and not remove his blindfold. For doing so would bring him shame and he could not become a man.
Finally after the horrific night the sun would appear and he would remove his blindfold.
It was then that he discovered his father sitting on the stump next to him. He had been a watch the entire night protecting his son from harm.
In the Lenten Gospel reading about the parable of the Prodigal Son, ach of the father's children saw life in their own way. The one son decided to leave home and take his inheritance. His father allowed him to do as he chose. During his departure from his father he spent all his money and began to starve. No one would help him and he suffered greatly. But, I ask you: Do you think that his father ever left his side? I guarantee that his father fervently prayed for his son. He would daily go onto the hill and wait for his son to return but the father knew that his son had to go and have his rite of passage, his son went into the wilderness away from his father's house and sat on the stump. The son was blindfolded and decided to seek happiness else were even though it was his father's great pleasure to take care of him. He ended up eating with the pigs. And, remember that even touching swine for a Jew was a great sin. The son had fallen to the lowest depths of his life.
It was not bad enough that the son took his inheritance and spent it on sin and riotous living but he also found himself caught in a place that his pride had a hold of him. He probably talked himself out of going home numerous times so that his father did not tell him the famous "I told you so" speech. The rite of passage put him through every emotion possible.
And, now I ask yet another question. Don't we all go through a similar rite of passage?
Sure we believe in God. We come to church we serve, we light candles, we hear sermons we do everything we should on Sundays. All of us at one point in our lives decide to leave home and experience the world. Some of us party, some of us drink, some of us do drugs. Some of us submerge ourselves into TV, video games or pornography. Some of us let sports or our work blind us to everything. Some of us let our health, our families or our personal lives, or our pride take away what is most important. All these things that I have just listed are but a few examples that lead us away from our Father, all these things virtually and sometimes quite literally blindfold us to what is really important. But, also all the things I have just listed are our rite of passage. Without them who would we be?
Our Father allows us to lead ourselves anywhere we want. That is called free will. We sit on this stump call life; we put on the blindfold and allow everything to surround us. We sit and are terrified at what approaches. We truly believe that we are on our own most days. Some of us try to take off the blindfold, but find that the knot is much too tight to loosen or some of see the light shining through and are just too afraid to take the leap forward to free ourselves. Remember that old saying: "Sometimes our own worst enemy is ourselves."
And, now I call your mind back to the gospel reading. What did the father do as his son was off throwing away his life? He waited on that hill. He fervently prayed never once leaving his son alone in the world. We can only imagine what those prayers would have been like.
Keep him safe and protect him Father. Bring him home to me. Help him to make the right choices. The father probably had many sleepless nights tossing and turning wondering where and what his son was doing. But, the father knew what he needed to do, his father trusted the Lord Almighty that he would keep his son safe. He trusted that he was not alone. And, could we also say that not only was the son on his rite of passage, but that this to was a rite of passage for the father also. To learn to accept the fact that he had no control that he too was sitting on the stump.
The rites of passage are difficult for the son, but trust me when I tell you it is no easier for the father: especially a father full of love and compassion for his children. Everyone must go through the rite of passage, from the peasant to the King of Heaven himself. What do you think that Christ's time on earth was all about? It was for us, but also Jesus went through his own childhood and growing up. He had parents that loved him and worried about him. He eventually found himself in the Garden of Gethsemane and soon he would pay the price for all of mankind's sins. Jesus had to go through His own rite of passage that brought him to the cross but His Father in heaven never left him for one single moment.
That is the same message that Christ left for all of us also. Even though we go through all kinds of tribulation Jesus gave us his word: "I will never leave you nor forsake you. I will be with you even to the end of the world." Even though it often feels we are alone, especially when the blindfold is on and we allow all the cares of this world distract us from the love of God, we often feel very alone. But we are never alone. If we look back at all the trials we have been through in life from the smallest events to the ones that we almost lost our lives can we honestly say that God was not their sitting next to us to keep us safe?
We as children really never give much heed to what we put our parents through. We cause them so much heartache and pain. And, at some point or another they finally let us go and to live our lives hanging on to that hope that we will make the right choices. And, we children who are fortunate enough to finally have our own children look back and say: if I only knew now, especially with the heartache and pain that our children are putting us through, I would not have put my parents through the same.
But, there is beauty in the breaking. There is God's glory in the pain. Everything we go through in life we never go through it alone. Our Father is sitting there next to us on the stump on guard and watching us, keeping us safe.
Before Christ ascended He promised us that the Comforter would come. And, so the Holy Spirit fills us. And, if we just wait, praying diligently and trusting that our Father truly never leaves our side we will be able to take the blindfold off and finally be free to see.
At one time or another, we are all sitting on the stump, blind folded and terrified at what life is going to throw at us next. Do not worry or be afraid my brothers and sisters we are not alone. And, for all of us prodigal sons and daughters our father is waiting on the hill and diligently praying and waiting for us to return to him. He is waiting to kill the fatted calf to have that party that lets the world and the hosts of heaven know that this, "my child was dead, and is alive; this is my child who was lost, and is found."