DISTANT COUNTRY

Saturday, 2nd Week of Lent              

            The prodigal son in today’s gospel parable demands his inheritance, goes off to a distant country and loses it all. This unnamed “distant country” is more than a place. It is really a way of living, a condition of the heart. It is a way of living that is characterized by self-indulgence. It is a condition of the heart that is afflicted with sinfulness.

            We are lured to a place where sin is made to look like fun. But sin is not fun for long. Illicit relationship or extra-marital affair looks fun until infidelity destroys a marriage and a family. Drinking alcohol, taking drugs, or going to casino looks fun until addiction hijacks the brain. Accumulation of material things looks fun until materialism distorts the sense of values. Sin is fun until selfishness, greed, indulgence, arrogance, or deception distorts and bends life out of shape and leaves us isolated from God and others, morally ruined. This is the “distant country” we all have known in some way.

            “Distant country” is the English translation of the Greek “makros chora.” According to some experts, the Greek term has a much deeper meaning than just saying that the younger son went to a “far place.” In the context of the story, “makros chora” means “the great emptiness.” So, the younger son is described as setting off to “the great emptiness.”

            That is exactly what happens to us when we wander away from the Giver of the gifts. When we distance ourselves from God due to selfishness, when we cut off our relationship with him due to sin, we are setting off to “the great emptiness.” Indeed, the gifts that we receive from God, when they are divorced from the Giver, will dry up! This is how we go into “the great emptiness.”

            When the prodigal son comes to his sense, we have the moment of recognition: “Father, I have sinned.” According to Joseph Krempa’s commentary, “It is the moment when he no longer blamed his father for being too indulgent, when he no longer blamed society for being too immoral, when he no longer blamed his employer for being unfair, when he no longer blamed his own immaturity for being unwise.” “Father, I have sinned.” This is the grace of sincere repentance.

            How often we remain trapped in destructive, sinful patterns of living, ready to blame anyone and anything else. We need to ask for the grace of sincere repentance that will enable us to say, and mean, “Lord, I have sinned.”

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