Fourth Sunday of Lent
March 31, 2019
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Good evening/morning. I am your Gospel writer, Luke. Yes, it’s true, I wrote today’s gospel story, and I want to share just a few words about it, and then invite the Prodigal family—father and two sons—to do the same.
It’s appropriate that you heard my story on the heels of the Old Testament passage where Joshua had just led the people into the Promised Land. Were you listening? The manna ceased for the Israelites. Why? Because they no longer needed it. They were no longer lost and wondering aimlessly in the desert. They had arrived in the land of milk and honey. They made it home, and so they celebrated with a great feast, the feast of Passover.
My story is like that too. It’s a story of finding the way home and celebrating with a great feast.
My story today also goes along with two other “lost” parables that I wrote: the lost sheep, the lost coin. But unlike the shepherd who leaves the 99 to find the lost one, or homemaker who sweeps the house top to bottom to find the lost coin, Papa doesn’t seek out his son when he leaves. Hmmm. Maybe you want to ask him about that.
My story is popularly known as the “The Prodigal Son” but I don’t think that captures it. “The Parable of the Lost Sons” I think is a better title. Or even better, “The Parable of the Forgiving Papa.”
Hello, I am the younger son. What I did to my father was inexcusable. It was as if I told him that I wished he were dead. And I rubbed salt in his wound by leaving, going far away, cutting all ties . . . as if he really were dead.
I squandered it all away, and found myself tending swine. I actually felt like a pig, so hungry I could eat their food. Do you have any idea how low that is for a (former) Jewish person of means? Pigs are unclean according to the law of Moses.
At that point, I discovered what it’s like to be lost, lost in sin. And the weight of the terrible things I had done and the those whom I had hurt became unbearable.
I came to my senses. I realized my sins. I rehearsed my apology, and I made my way home. He spied me from far down the road, and the next thing I knew he was right there. He didn’t even let me finish my apology before I was swept up in his embrace of compassion, mercy, and forgiveness. After that, it was all joy and celebration.
What brought me back to life? Was it my own coming to my senses? My own efforts to return? My apology and appeal to just be a hired hand?
No, of course not. It was him. It was all Papa and his unfailing love and forgiveness. It was the very same generosity that handed over everything he owned to me and my brother in the first place. Only this time, instead of money, it’s pure heart, and that‘s what healed me.
Hi, I’m the older son. What can I say, I’ve always been a black and white thinker. I’m good at knowing what’s fair, and even better at keeping score.
When little brother got his, I made sure I got mine as well. It’s only fair, right? Even if Papa ended up with nothing and had to start over.
Did I squander and lose it? No. Can you really blame me for being confused and angry when he got back? I don’t think so.
I have a little perspective now, though. I realize that while I fully get “fair”, I don’t know a thing about mercy. Papa wasn’t being fair . . . he was being merciful. Apparently, I can’t earn his love and tally it up, no matter what I do. It is simply freely and wholly given.
While my brother is a poster child for all those who have sinned, I guess I symbolize all all those who are stuck on self-righteousness. We’re the ones who would rather be right than happy.
But I see now that my refusal to go in and join the celebration was another insult to Papa, on par with asking for the inheritance while he is still alive.
I wanted to go in. I wanted to respond to his gesture of mercy, but I just didn’t know how.
Their happiness is all that matters to me, and I was willing to give all I had to them. It broke my heart that receiving their inheritance in the prime of their lives made them both miserable instead.
Countless hours, morning and evening, I stood on the stoop looking down the road watching one son go out to the fields and return, shoulders always slumped, clearly disgruntled, and yearning for a way to reach him and re-connect.
And the other son, well, just hoping that one day he might reappear on the road. Why didn’t I go after him when he left, or try to find him? Believe me, I wanted to. But somehow, I knew that just wasn’t right. He needed to find himself.
My heart was broken, and all I could do was keep my vigil.
And then, on that day, it all changed. He appeared on the road, my heart burst open, and I could not contain it. Oh, the joy! I knew in an instant what to do, and that was simply to give to them both the fullness of my heart. Not my money. My heart.
From me to you: don’t worry about the older son. The sharp edges are softening . . . and I think we’ll have another party soon.
Moral of the story: when you are given the gift of God, but you do not stay in touch with the Giver, you lose yourself. So, you have to turn back to God, but you do not have to crawl back. God’s love meets more than halfway. God’s grace seeks whoever is willing to be found.