Homily of the Prodigal Son – The Metaphor of Food

Homily on the Prodigal Son:  A Metaphor on Food
St. Luke 15:11-32
1 Corinthians 6:12-20 


Some people think of sin, judgment, and salvation as a courthouse: God gave us rules we have to follow.  Because we fail to follow the rules, God must condemn us at the Great Judgment.  The only thing that keeps this from this inevitable sentence is that His Only-Begotten Son, Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ already took the punishment of our sins.  As long as we repent and accept His intercession then we will be able to stand uncondemned at the  Court of the Last Judgment and enter into heaven.

This is interesting and even useful, but let me share a different way that is at least as useful and true.

What if it isn’t so much about abstract rules that must be obeyed as it is descriptions of the kind of behaviors that are hazardous to our health?  What if Christ was the Great Physician and the Church a hospital for the sick (St. Luke 5:30-32)?  What if our own unhealthy behavior condemned us, and Christ came to heal us so that we can live well now and forever?

Food, Feedback Loops, and Our Deteriorating Health

Sin consists of all those things that damage our spiritual health.  Sin destroys our health both by the damage it does to our own life and, even more importantly, by separating us from the ultimate source of health and vitality: God.  

Our physical health – and how we both maintain it and harm it – is a great metaphor for the ways we maintain and hamr our spiritual health.  One of the most obvious ways we can maintain – and damage – our physical health is through the kinds and quantities of food we eat.

Our bodies have feedback loops so that that allow us to diagnose the effect the things we eat have on our health.  If I get a stomach cramp after trying out the most exotic dish at a new restaurant, then I can be pretty sure that it was what I ate there that did the damage.  You have all experienced how this works, so there is no need to dwell on it. 

Now imagine a world where the feedback loops had been short-circuited and confused in such a way that no one really notices the damage bad food and health habits were doing to them. 

Moreover, imagine that things were engineered so that people craved unhealthy food and that this food was subsidized so that it was cheap and easily available so that everyone’s cravings would be easily satisfied.

What would happen to the health of a population in such a system?

We don’t have to imagine this kind of world, do we?  In America, we are suffering tremendously from just such a system.  Unhealthy food is engineered to taste great and is cheap and available enough that it has become the normal choice for most of us.  And look at the consequences – most Americans are overweight and a substantial minority of us are obese.  And this terrible process starts early.  But look at how we reach: instead of being heartbroken and repentant at what we have done to ourselves, instead of rededicating ourselves to a healthier way of life (except perhaps, in fits and starts), we recreate the world so that it indulges and supports us in our sickness.

Back to the Parable

To go back to the parable of the Prodigal Son, we are eating the pods of the swine – and loving it.  We are as happy with these empty pods as a pig in mud.  In the parable, the younger son recognized the damage he had done to his life.  He repented and turned back.  If nothing else, his belly woke him from his stupor.  But what if it had not?  What if his society and his pride had woven an illusion over him – a matrix if, you will – and convinced him that he was neither hungry nor sick.  What could have awoken him to the seriousness of his situation?  Why would he ever decide to go back to a place of health, truth, and sanity?

I worry that this describes our world all too well.  We have all but removed the most obvious spiritual consequences of our poor decisions (the feedback loop) and made ourselves victims of those we haven’t.  We do not take responsibility for our actions because we see nothing wrong – or at least nothing that is a consequence of our own mistakes. 

Great Lent is designed to wake us from this dangerous dream, to help us recognize not only the many compromises we have made but also the affect these compromises have had on our own spiritual health and the spiritual health of our communities. 

The Lord warns us, through His apostle Paul; “For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). 

Today’s epistle about the danger of sexual immorality hits the mark – this is another area where our culture and our pride conspire to set us all up for failure.  But there are so many other ways. 

Even theft has become routinized and destigmatized.  Stealing is so commonplace that we feel no shame despite the fact that so many of our entertainment devices are full of stolen music and so many of our computers are full of pirated software and movies.

Perhaps there are some rare individuals that manage to follow the Ten Commandments and avoid all the temptations this world throws at them, but how many can avoid the temptations of the older brother? The one who, though technically blameless, lost his soul to bitterness and selfishness.


Yes, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  We have all compromised.  We have all damaged our own spiritual health and that of our communities.

But the great part of the story is that all that is behind us now.  Today we have seen the sinfulness of the world for what it is, repented of our participation in its sin, and turned back to our Father.  And here He is running to meet us.  Let the music and the hymns of the Divine Liturgy be as His arms enfolding us.  He has killed the fatted calf and prepared a feast for us.  Blessed Communion awaits.

Glory to God that despite our many shortcomings and pride, He welcomes us home with open arms.