Browsing the net on the subject of fitness and health I notice that a sedentary lifestyle is a significant cause of death in the US. The evidence indicates we need to watch our weight and keep fit. There were warnings against eating too much hi-carb food, over-drinking and, of course, too much sitting. Over the last decade or so, diet and fitness have been real growth industries. Billions of dollars are poured into both every year. But, why do we bother?
Is it because we reckon that life now is the only one we have, so we’d better make the most of it? We probably also appreciate other benefits – the good looks that come from having a fit body, and the energy surge that comes with the release of endorphins when we exercise.
But the bottom line is we all have to face the facts: as time passes our bodies lose their youthful looks and fitness and, with enough time, we will slip off this mortal coil. No matter how good our diet and how much we exercise, we all face a terminus ad quem. And, there comes a time when most people realize this. What then are we looking for in life? What is our greatest longing, our biggest dream?
Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11ff) focuses at first on the younger of two sons. He’d asked his father, ‘Can I have my share of the inheritance now?’ And his father had given him what he wanted. But the day came when the young man found himself destitute. With no money, no food and no friends his thoughts turned to home and to his father. ‘I’m mad,’ he thought. ‘Here I am, bereft, with no future. I’m going home! But what will Dad say?’
The younger son’s problem was that he wanted the inheritance without any reference to his father – without any responsibility or accountability. Isn’t this what we want to do with God? We have a sneaking suspicion that God is there, but we want him out of the way, dead, so we can do what we want.
The cry of the heart.
Yes, we do have the issues of fitness and aging, but our real problem is facing up to God – for we are his creation. Jesus wants us to feel the impact of his words as he exposes our flawed human heart. Jean Paul Sartre, the French existentialist said: ‘That God does not exist, I cannot deny; that my whole being cries out for God I cannot forget’.
‘But what if we do turn to God? Can God find it in his heart to forgive me?’ we ask. Jesus gives us the answer in this parable. Before the younger son could catch his breath, his father was busy ordering new clothes, shoes and a ring – the best of everything. The most elaborate and expensive feast was prepared and the father tells us why. ‘For this my son was dead, now he is alive, he was lost but now he has been found.’ The wayward, rebellious son who deserved nothing good from his father was to be reinstated as a son.
We have the further evidence of God’s love in the events that unfolded. Jesus, whose life was good in every sense of the word, who came to be recognized as the Messiah, let his life be taken from him so that we, through his death, might find life. His resurrection from the dead assures us of it. Unexpectedly and undeservedly, Jesus lavishes forgiveness on anyone who turns back to him and says from the bottom of their heart, ‘Lord, I am so sorry.’ In a world where our lives have a fading and temporary glory, this is good news indeed. Let’s live with the joy of it in our hearts – and watch what happens.
[Adapted from my commentary on Luke, John G. Mason, Reading Luke Today: An Unexpected God, Aquilla:2012 (available at amazon.com).]