Stories are part and parcel of our lives as human beings. They can shape our worldview. They help us make sense of things that we do not understand at times. For example, in many African cultures and traditions, stories are told to growing children in order to teach them how to deal with hardships and challenges of their environment and how to behave towards others. No wonder Jesus told stories on several occasions in the gospels when addressing large crowds or his disciples because he fully understood the power of storytelling. Stories helped the people who were listening to Jesus get a better grasp of who God is, and what he intends them to be.
So here we are in today’s Gospel reading from Luke the Evangelist. It’s story time. Jesus wants us to find a way to see ourselves in the story.
I am struck by one sentence: “The distant country.” All countries and territories in the ancient and modern world have names no matter how near or distant they are. Having said that, it is not our task in this reflection to try to figure out the name of this “distant country” for one simple reason; we may never know. The only thing that we do know is that it is the place where the prodigal son “spent everything,” At the end of the day he realized that he had run out of resources; he felt powerless and experienced vulnerability: “And no one gave him anything.” Hunger and loneliness started to bite. For the first time he knew what it meant not to have it all together.
Who among us today doesn’t know what it’s like to be powerless and vulnerable? Think about when Covid-19 arrived and how the world became powerless and vulnerable. Even now with the discovery of vaccines, the battle is still far from over.
As a takeaway lesson, a “distant country” – wherever that may be – is a place that we all need to make effort to visit at some stage, not to go and spend everything like the prodigal son but to discover our need of meaning, hope, wisdom and courage.
The “distant country” always asks a task of us. We need to try to re-imagining our lives to be more – and larger – than history.
What is the “distant country” for you? And what task is being asked of you?
The prodigal son cleaned the pig pen on his own. What are the dirty things you need to deal with in your life today?