The second Sunday in preparation for Lent is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, again named for the Gospel reading appointed for the day. (Luke 15:11–32) This is perhaps one of the most famous parables in the Gospels, recounting a father with his two sons and their separation and reunion.
This Gospel image is not only meant to carry us to the next Sunday, but to remain with us as a guide through all of Lent. Every stage of the story offers rich guidance for our own lives. But one point that is worthy of continual reflection is the story’s fundamental turning point.
At the beginning, the son’s attention and the gaze of his heart had been outward, away from his home, to anywhere where his own will, his own pleasure and gratification, could be most fully expressed and served. And in time this attention and gaze led the son to a real departure from home, a real expenditure of every resource available to gratify his every desire.
However, after the exhaustion of all his resources, amplified by famine and destitution, this son who had always been looking outward, for the first time in the story turns his attention to his home and to his father. This is the turning point, the moment when the direction changes.
Through the rest of the story the son can think of nothing else. The internal recollection of his home, embodied by his father, now leads this son who has wasted everything to rise and return. There is not a step of his journey back that does not have at its root this internal vision of home and his father. And it is this vision within him that persists through his homecoming and restoration.
If we are to successfully navigate this coming season of repentance it cannot begin or be sustained to completion with merely external actions. For it is our attention and the vision of our hearts that lead our way. If we would learn anything from the younger son, we must begin by asking, In what direction is my heart turned? Where is it leading? What are my thoughts and desires reaching out to in the absence of external compulsion? Whatever the answer might be, it is here that we must begin. And continue. And finish.
Lent is very little if it is not a labor in our heart and mind. Our first step is to look simply and honestly into what is actually leading us, as frightening as this might be. But if we have the courage to push aside falsehood for a moment, we can also hope to hear the echo of the Lord’s voice calling out to us from the depths of our own souls. For under everything, all of our hearts long only for home, only for Him.