Kempis reiterates the need for mortification to get closer to the Trinity; in this chapter (1,21) this drawing nearer to the Lord should result from a deep sorrow of heart for offending so good a God with our sins.
Arguably, the most famous parable of Jesus’ is the Prodigal Son that we heard today (Lk 15:1-3,11-32). This younger son, in essence, tells his dad to drop dead — I want my inheritance now! He proceeds to live it up, burning through his new found wealth in short order. Then, when difficult times come, his fair weather, free-loading “friends” are nowhere to be found. Reduced to tending pigs, a particularly obnoxious line of work for a Jew, he “comes to his senses.” He decides to go back to his boyhood home, confess his sinful behavior, and beg his father for work. The patriarch, eagerly awaiting his wayward son’s return, runs out to greet him, welcomes him home, and lavishes upon him the royal treatment. The older son is livid that his brother is given such fanfare, leading the father to try to help the older son understand the father’s motivation in these actions.
It is not uncommon to hear folks (maybe even ourselves) speak of how only when they reached rock bottom in an addiction or other sinful behavior that they finally cried out to God for help. When things are going well, when the creature comforts are all in place, divine things can far too often take a back seat, the trunk, or not be along for the ride at all. This is why Kempis’s advice is so wise and so needed, particularly in a time and place in which our every desire can be easily fulfilled. Let us not get too comfortable with all the comforts and distractions around us; these are all passing. Rather, like the Prodigal Son, let us come back to the Father, acknowledging our sins and waywardness. We can be assured that He will bridge the greater distance to welcome us back.
(By the way, let us not fall into the trap of the older son, self-righteously taking offense when someone who has led a wayward life comes home. Remember God’s mercy to each one of us, personally, and also what Scripture tells us: “Do I find pleasure in the death of the wicked…? Do I not rejoice when they turn from their evil way and live?” [Ezek 18:23])
(An aside: To really dive into this parable in ways you very likely never considered, read the fabulous work by Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son.)
The Return of the Prodigal Son (c. 1661–1669) by Rembrandt van Rijn