We pursued an unusual theme for Lenten services a few years ago. Our pastors and leaders at Stavanger Lutheran Church took turns speaking on the theme, “Sensing the Gospel.” Our aim was to contemplate Lent and the passion of Christ through the five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. It was fascinating—and challenging—to uncover many passages in Scripture that reference our human senses.
In the familiar Parable of the Prodigal Son, a key verse contains a colloquial expression about our senses: “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!’” (Luke 15:17). To be sure, this is not a specific reference to the human senses; literally, Jesus says the young man “came to himself.” But the idea of coming to one’s senses—meaning to start to think and behave reasonably after a period of folly or irrationality—this is certainly what Jesus means.
Why do we North Americans express this concept with the thought of regaining our physical senses? Because prior to this revelation of coming to our senses, it is as if we have no awareness of how foolish we’ve been, how lost, how alone, how hopeless we are. As if our sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell have ceased to function. And that gets us into so much trouble…
And then finally, but suddenly, in a moment, our eyes are opened so we see where we are living… we hear the grunting pigs… touch their skin… taste the dirt in our mouths… and smell the stench of this life of sin.
How could we have been so blind? Why did it take us so long to wake up in this place of spiritual darkness? How could we have so completely forgotten our real home, and more than that, forgotten our Father?
The prodigal son had lost his senses, even before he left home, or he never would have left. Then, in his blindness, he could not choose to regain his senses and think rationally. That did not happen until he’d hit rock bottom, all human resources exhausted, all other avenues closed, no place left to go. And he came to his senses. He thought, “What am I doing here? Why did I choose this place, this life? How do I get out of here?” He remembered at last the one who loved him. And his father’s love drew him home.
How and why did his senses return? This is a mystery, known only to God. “But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear” (Matthew 13:16).
We who have experienced this now gratefully praise our God and Father. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).
Rev. Brent Juliot serves as pastor of Oak Ridge Lutheran Brethren Church in Menomonie, Wisconsin.