Anthony de Mello tells the following parable of the man who invented fire: “A long time ago, there was a man who invented the art of making fire. He took his tools and visited a tribe in the north, where the climate was bitter cold. The man taught the people how to make fire. And the people were spellbound. He showed them many uses for fire: they could cook, keep themselves warm, keep predators at bay and dance by firelight. So they built fire and were very grateful. But before they could express their gratitude, the man disappeared, because he wasn’t concerned with recognition or gratitude. He was concerned only with their well-being.
The fire-making man visited a different tribe, and began to teach the art of making fire. Like the first tribe, this tribe was mesmerised. But the tribe members’ passion unnerved the tribe’s leaders. It didn’t take long for them to notice that the fire-making man drew large crowds, and the leaders worried about lost influence and power. Because of their fear, the leaders determined to kill the fire-making man and they devised a clever plan because they were worried that the tribe people might revolt. Can you guess what they did? The leaders made a portrait of the fire-making man, and displayed it on the main altar of the temple. The instruments for making fire were placed in front of the portrait, and the people were taught to revere the portrait and to pay reverence to the instruments of fire. The veneration and the worship went on for centuries. But there was no more fire.”
“The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.”
I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found. I realise that the real sin is to deny God’s first love for me, to ignore my original goodness. Because without claiming that first love and that original goodness for myself, I lose touch with my true self and embark on the destructive search among the wrong people and in the wrong places for what can only be found in the house of my Father. The younger son’s return takes place in the very moment that he reclaims his sonship.
The Elder Son
Both sons need healing and forgiveness. Both need to come home. Both need the embrace of a forgiving father. But it is clear that the hardest conversion to go through is the conversion of the one who stayed at home. The ‘lostness’ of the elder son is more difficult to identify. After all he did all the right things. His form of ‘lostness’ is deeply rooted and it is hard to return home from there. Although we are incapable of liberating ourselves from our frozen anger, we can allow ourselves to be found by God and be healed by his love through the concrete and daily practice of trust and gratitude. Trust is that deep inner conviction that the Father wants me home. As long as I doubt that I am worth finding and put myself down as less loved than my younger brothers and sisters, I cannot be found. Gratitude and resentment cannot co-exist since resentment blocks the perception and experience of life as gift. Gratitude, however, claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift, a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.
Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son
Today’s gospel is a story that speaks about a love that always welcomes home and always wants to celebrate, Being in the Father’s house means that I make the Father’s life my own and that I be transformed into his image. The return to the Father is ultimately to become the compassionate Father.