What if the two sons in today’s gospel were optometrists? I wonder what kind of glasses they think their father needed, or what kind they hoped he was wearing?
In the beginning of the story, the younger son is thinking that his dad needs to be corrected for his nearsightedness. He can only see this small world at the end of his nose. He doesn’t feel the need to travel, to experience all the amazing things that are out there in this world. “There is so much more out there and dad will never understand that, because he can’t see that. He can’t see anything past the end of the road that defines the limits of his world. I am so trapped here, so stifled here. I’ve got to get away. I’ve got to see all the things that LIFE has to offer.” And to his credit, the father lets his son have his way. If you must see what is beyond these familiar boundaries, then explore you must…
And so the father watches him as he disappears where the pavement meets the horizon, where the dust of the road melds into the haziness of hot days. And there, the Father’s gaze remains. Each day. Every day. Looking to that farthest end of the horizon, because he knows what the road will do to those who believe life only happens out there.
The older son believes that his dad eyes needs to be corrected for his farsightedness. Everyday, as he goes out to the fields to tend the flocks and work the ground and till the soil, he sees his father, sitting there on the porch, with his eyes only on the end of the road. Looking only on the distant horizon – watching for the son who does not come. “Who am I” he thinks? “Chopped liver? How come he doesn’t SEE ME? How come he isn’t looking down the road to these fields and waiting for me each night when I come home, and welcoming me and letting me know how much he loves ME – the faithful one? He needs reading glasses to see what is here before him.”
Things change for the youngest son. There among the pigs, with his stomach growling and heart empty, the younger son realizes he had it all wrong. “I want my dad to be farsighted. No I NEED him to be farsighted – to be looking down the road for me – eyes on that horizon for me – because it is the only way I’ll have a chance.” Maybe, he things, he’ll be looking down the road and I’ll get a chance to say how wrong I was and how stupid I was, and though he won’t be able to see me as a son, at least he’ll be able to see me on the horizon to take me in. Please let him be farsighted, O God! “I need you to be farsighted, dad!”
And when the younger son returns and the party is going on, and the older son is remaining in the fields, and his dad come to talk to him, all of his anger comes out. “I have been with you all these years and never once did you give me …anything! I’ve been here right under your nose, and yet where is the appreciation for all I’ve done, for all I’ve given you? You can’t even see what is right beneath you. YOU need glasses dad. Bad. Real bad.” You’ve been looking down that road every day since that no good son of yours left so much that you can’t see what’s right in front of you. “I need you to be nearsighted.”
And in one of those wonderful reversals that the gospels are famous for, it turns out that the Father is the eye doctor – offering to both his sons the corrective lens that THEY need. And it turns out that the ‘glasses’ the sons thought their father should be wearing said more about them than it ever did their father.
To the younger son – “Put the ring on his finger, the cloak on his back, sandals on his feet.” All of those are cultural signs in the world of Jesus that denote the status of ‘son’ in a family. “Let HIM see himself as MY SON. Not a worker, not someone who has failed miserably, not even as an unworthy sinner – but as MY SON.” See beyond the failures that you are most present to right before your eyes and see the deeper truth on the horizon. You are my son who was lost and now is found. “I don’t need you to see your faults – I know them, you know them. Don’t get trapped there. See beyond them to my love. “I need you to be farsighted.”
To the older son: “All I have is yours. It’s always been. My love is always there for you. Don’t you get it? But put on these glasses to see what your anger has blinded you from seeing – this “son of mine” as you call him is also YOUR BROTHER. Learn to rejoice that he has come home. Learn to see what has always been right before your eyes – but you couldn’t see – he is yours, I am yours – TOGETHER we are a family. I need you to see what is right in front of you. I need you to be nearsighted!”
And you – what kind of prescription are you hoping that God is wearing these days? Do you hope he is a bit farsighted, overlooking YOUR FLAWS, your mistakes, your sinfulness? Do you demand that he be nearsighted, that he notice you for all your hard work, all your faithful church attendance, all the good things YOU have done? Or perhaps, do you pray that he has lineless bifocals – like these (show my own glasses) – that allow him to see both your younger son wanderings and your elder son resentments? Do you hope God can see both near and far in your complicated life to hold all the opposites and failures and successes together?
This week, will you pray to God that he fix YOUR seeing of this world according to His vision, and not the other way around?