Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Path to Life or the Path to Death, Which do you Choose?

I’ve mentioned before that I was active in Boy Scouts when I was young. One of the lessons I learned as a scout, and I learned many, happened one weekend in the mountains of Colorado. Our troop separated into two teams. Each team was dropped off at a different spot and our goal was to make our way over the mountain and meet the other team for dinner. I was put in charge of the map for our team and we began our journey. It didn’t take long before we realized that we were on a trail that wasn’t on the map, so we gathered together and attempted to relocate ourselves on the map. We argued over which way was correct and eventually found ourselves very lost in the mountains. Meanwhile the other team was already over the mountain and enjoying a relaxing dinner. While we were pitching our tents in the darkness of an unknown valley, the other team was enjoying the evening campfire. The two teams had chosen two very different paths over the mountain.

Our journey through the mountains of Colorado was much like our journey through life. We follow a certain path that we believe will get us to where we want to be. At first, the path seems like the right way until we realize that either the map is wrong or we are lost. It happens slowly at first. Our path was so close to the path on the map we didn’t realize we were headed in the wrong way. We could have turned back, but instead we kept moving until we were totally lost.

This morning’s Gospel has a similar story. The younger son took his inheritance and followed his own path. His path led to sin and death. Saint Luke writes, “The younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want.” (Luke 15.13-14) The younger son could have realized his path was wrong and return to his father, but instead he continued on his way and risked death and took a job feeding a bunch of pigs. “And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.” (Luke 15.16) The younger son was totally lost and near death.

Sometimes we need to be totally lost before we can realize we are on the wrong path. The only way out when we are so totally lost is for us to admit defeat. The younger son quickly realized that he was about to die. At the same time he knew that even his father’s servants had a better life. He realized that the only way to avoid death was to return to his father and admit defeat. He said, “I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.’” (Luke 15.18) Only in complete humility could the younger son realize he was lost. If only he knew how to read a map, maybe he wouldn’t have been lost.

His map, and our map my dear brothers and sisters, of course is the Word of God. Holy Scripture makes very clear the path we are supposed to follow in life. When we don’t understand the map, or worse, when we don’t even read the map, we get lost. In boy scouts our team was trying to get over the mountain, but in life our goal is to have eternal life, or it should be. The path to eternal life is Love.

“And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?’ So he answered and said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’ And He said to him, ‘You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.’” (Luke 10.25-28) Nowhere does the Lord say stay focused on yourself and you will be saved. Nowhere does Christ say worry about your own needs. Christ continues to reveal that loving our neighbor can only be expressed in charity to others. This is the path to eternal life. Our map is quite clear. The Word of God is quite clear.

The younger son did not show love for his brother, his father, nor anyone he encountered because he was only thinking for himself. And thinking only about himself led to death rather than life. The younger son wouldn’t even wait for his father’s death to collect his inheritance. “Father give me the portion of goods that falls to me.” (Luke 15.12) He had to have what was his due NOW! What he received was a life of struggle and poverty. Even the pigs ate better than him. We could say he wasn’t reading his map very well.

When the younger son realized he was totally lost, he “came to himself” (Luke 15.17) and decided to return to his father not as a son but as a simple servant. “I am no longer worthy to be called your son,” (Luke 15.19) he decided to say to his father. But there was a surprise waiting for him. His father never stopped waiting for him to return. As soon as the father saw the son in the distance he went running to him “and had compassion on him, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” (Luke 15.20) The son was immediately restored to his original glory as the father’s son.

We have a decision my dear brothers and sisters. Which path do we as a community want to follow; the path toward eternal life or the path toward death? The choice is ours to make and nobody else’s. Our map is clear if we choose to read it and since it never goes out of date we can trust the path it reveals. The path to eternal life is “Love God with all our heart, mind and soul and our neighbor as ourselves” and charity for others. If we choose the path of the prodigal son and think only of ourselves, whether as a community or as individuals, that path leads to death.

When our team realized we were on the wrong path, we didn’t have the courage to trust the map. Instead we kept insisting the map was wrong. The map wasn’t wrong, we were.

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