“Are you far from home and lost in a sea of confusion? Does your broken heart seem beyond repair? Has the fire in your soul gone out and grown cold? Do you think that no one sees, or even cares?” Words I penned several years back for a song called, “The Prodigal”. The song is probably my favorite, or at least one of the top two favorites of those I have written; the story of the Prodigal is my favorite in the Bible.
I have been the prodigal child in my life. I bet you have, too. Whenever we live life on our terms, in our own way, ignoring the still, small voice inside our hearts, we walk the path of the Prodigal. Interestingly, God lets us live life the way we choose, and He will be there to help pick up the pieces when we finally have had enough, when we find ourselves broken in spirit, financially ruined, face down in the gutter, literally or figuratively. Some folks will cry out to God, others defiantly choose to maintain their right to live life on their terms all the way to the grave. Years may pass and we think we are the “bomb”, we have the world by the tail, the cards are stacked in our favor, and then we find out our thinking was little more than an illusion. I believe many of us come to that crossroad in life, however, the place where we decide His way, or my way.
As the story goes, the young man begged his father to let him have his inheritance to go out and live in the world, to make his own decisions, learn from his own mistakes. The father did as he was asked, knowing full well the world outside his covering was harsh and unforgiving. At first the young man lived high on the hog, so to speak, partying, partaking of every sensual pleasure and buying up friends by the dozens. Ever notice we have lots of friends when we are paying the tab? When the young man’s money ran out, his so-called friends left as quickly. For a time, the young man found ways to get by, temporary setback, he would be back on his feet in no time. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending upon how one looks at it, he found himself down for the count, the only job available to him was to slop the hogs; decidedly one of the worst jobs for a Jew. Face down in the mud, sharing the trough with the pigs, he reasoned if he returned home he could work as a servant in his father’s house. At least he would have shelter, food, and drink. The young man began his trek toward home. One day when he was still a long way off, the father spotted the young man having searched the horizon each day since his son had left for signs of his return. The father ran, he ran to meet his son and welcome him home. The celebration began.
There is so much gold to be found in this story; I have written on it before. The message for today is the young man’s attitude that led to his return home and the subsequent celebration. Humility and gratitude, plain and simple. Two of the most important and hardest lessons ever to be learned. The young man had come to the end of himself, the place we all need to find before God can use us, the moment in our journey when self and selfishness no longer have purpose.
We may say, “I am humble and God is still not blessing me.” Me. Who is the concern in that statement? Me. Humility is one of the greatest, if not the greatest virtue in Judaism. Our society knows little of humility, we undervalue its strength, misinterpreting the strength of humility as weakness. During the course of my lifetime I have watched the “me” mentality unfold before my eyes, gaining speed with each passing year. Keeping up with the Joneses has become commonplace, putting ourselves out there, declaring our own worth and talents to the world because Lord knows, others are not going to lift us up. It is a dog-eat-dog world out there, everyone striving to best the other. Life is about “I”; what I have, what I do, what I drive, where I live, the list is endless. Selfies are the norm, the standard.
Pride is the opposite of humility. Pride elevates self. Humility puts others ahead of self. It is not so much we need to think less of ourselves; humility sees the need of others outside self and seeks to serve others first. Humility is more often than not born of suffering, usually personal suffering. Those who are humble have been face down in the dirt, emptied and broken, and because of the brokenness become a usable vessel of God. The young Prodigal found himself sharing the trough with the pigs; in the Jewish mind man cannot fall much lower. The Prodigal had come to the end of self, believing himself unworthy of the riches from which he had been born.
Another form of pride is elevating our seeming humility above others. Perhaps we are self-effacing, believing we treat others better than we are treated. Although it may appear as humility, it is not. Instead of entering through the front door, we opt to enter from the back door, believing and speaking as though we are continually hurt by others all the while decrying our tolerance, patience, and respectful treatment of others. The focus again is “I”; look at me, “I” am respectful of others, yet look how they treat “me”. Very subtle, yet dangerous to our journey. Maybe we believe respect is to be earned, a variation on this theme. Our demands for respect while being intolerant of others, or holding them to a higher standard than we hold ourselves, is veiled pride.
Matthew 44-47 speaks clearly to both of these subtle forms of pride, “You have heard that our fathers were told, `Love your neighbors — and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! Then you will become children of your Father in heaven. For (H)e makes (H)is sun shine on good and bad people alike, and (H)e sends rain to the righteous and the unrighteous alike. What reward do you get if you love only those who love you? Why, even tax-collectors do that! And if you are friendly only to your friends, are you doing anything out of the ordinary? Even the Goyim (Gentiles) do that!” Whether this was in the original texts, or has been embellished through the ages, the principle is sound; we need to love all, which is not to say we need to spend time with those who have persecuted, or treated us poorly. Love is an act of the will regardless of feelings. Learning to love in spite of being persecuted requires humility.
We are worthy in God’s eyes, our worth must be seen thru His eyes as we are an extension of Him. Humility is an attitude not a place. We live within an attitude of humility recognizing our worth as we live and breath the presence of God into a hurting world. All attitudes and being emanate from within transforming us from the inside out. A form of outward humility is not humility. In other words, appearing humble without being humble is not humility; that being the attitude of the religious leaders Yeshua (Jesus) called vipers.
The Prodigal had been humbled. In his heart of hearts I believe he knew his father loved him in spite of his wanderings, behavior, and poor decisions. Our Father, the Creator of all, the Universal Life Force, whatever name resonates, loves each one of us, every cell of our being, thru our wanderings, behaviors, attitudes, and poor decisions. Gratitude naturally follows the humble of heart, grateful for every blessing, big or small. Just like the Prodigal’s father, our Father searches the horizon for us to return. In the end, we are all prodigals…..