Epiphany in a Pig Pen

The day dawned gray.

His stomach groaned with the now familiar pain.

Loneliness riveted his soul.

On the crowded city streets he wandered as a solitary vagabond desperate and despondent.

In just a fortnight his fortunes had reversed. He had then played with an abundance of easy money and a house full of happy friends and hangers on who knew where the action was.

The parties lasted until the wee hours.

Now it was all gone. The final faint sounds of laughter and clanging bottles echoed through the house and then vanished into the haunting stillness.

Severe famine had spread depression to the countryside and swept away hope.

“And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want” (Luke 15:14, KJV).

That’s how Jesus put it in his story.

Suddenly the happy and confident young man who had it all had nothing.

No money. No friends. No food.

He came across a pig farm and pleaded with the owner to give him a job. He must have looked pretty pathetic because the gruff guy relented and sent him into the fields to feed the swine.

The kid who had lived high off the hog was now slopping them.

Engulfed in stench and muck, he was so desperately hungry he would have eaten the pods he was feeding the pigs but those belonged to them and this was business. He dared not touch the farmer’s supply.

Jesus goes out of his way to emphasize the often selfish cruelty of a disinterested world. As destitute as this young man was, Jesus says that “no one gave him anything” (Luke 15: 16, NLT).

He looked hopefully into the faces of passersby but found not a glance of compassion or sympathy.

The world can be a cold place; a fickle friend.

“Reproach hath broken my heart,” cried the psalmist, “and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none” (Psalm 69:20, KJV).

Once valued for what he had and could give, he was of no consequence in a famine-riven land.

“Look and see, there is no one at my right hand; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life” (Psalm 142:4, NIV, emphasis added).

Yet hope is not quite gone. Jesus turns a page in his story.

He tells us that this young man has what many might call an epiphany. Triggered by some memory of happier days and a sudden longing for home, “he came to himself” (verse 17, KJV).

He returns to his senses. He is touched by logic. He is enlightened by sound reason.

Paul writes in Ephesians that the unsaved mind is “hopelessly confused” and its “understanding darkened” (Ephesians 4:17, 18, NLT, KJV). When the mind is touched by the Spirit of God, the life is transformed because the mind is spiritually renewed (Romans 12:1).

So it is with us. So it is with this young man. He comes to himself when he has come to the end of himself.

It suddenly dawns on him that back home the hired hands and servants he once ridiculed and dismissed are living far better than he is.

“And here I am dying of hunger!” (Luke 15: 17, NLT).

There is an irony in this.

After all, these hired workers are “my father’s” (verse 17, KJV).

He turns his heart toward home. But what will he do? What will he say to the one he hurt and offended so profoundly?

“I will go home to my father and say, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant” (verse 19, NLT).

Assuming the young man’s sincerity, which Jesus implies, this is the meaning of repentance. It is the model of repentance.

Since returning to his senses, the son has thought about this. It hasn’t been easy.

He remembers that day he asked for his share from a startled father. He remembers the day he left a grieving father. He remembers his self-will and arrogance. He remembers the good times and the parties – and when it all went away.

He looks at himself now in the pig pen. He knows one thing for certain – above all else.

He’s been wrong. Undeniably wrong.

He’s made a mess of his life worse than the one he’s standing in. He weeps softly the bitter tears of remorse. His heart is broken. So is his proud spirit.

We find here no excuses or justifications; no rationalizations.

We find no pride or defiance.

We find no plans for bargaining or negotiation.

Instead we find plain and open confession. We find contriteness. We find candor.

We see a different young man.

He has recited to himself the simple but profound facts of his life as he knows them to be. He knows what he’ll tell his father.

“Father, I have sinned…”

“…against heaven and against you …”

“I am no longer worthy…”

The young man has taken stock of his life. His is an honest introspection.

This is our need.

This is our prayer.

This is our story.

We know this.

When we come to our senses.

When we come to our God.

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