Parent or Prodigal?

Joshua 5:9-12, Psalm 32, 2 Cor. 5:16-21, Luke 151-3, 11b-32

Please join me in our Lenten prayer:

Now, O Lord, calm us into quietness. Take us to that place within You that heals, listens, and molds our longings and passions, our wounds and wanderings, and transforms us into a more holy human shape. For it is in You that we live and move and have our being[1]. Amen.

Do you recall the first announcement of Christ’s ministry in Nazareth? He launches his ministry with the proclamation: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

Let’s hover for a moment like a mother hen brooding over her chicks and observe Luke’s Gospel from above. The first two moves we make in self-reflection during Lent – and indeed the first two moves of our corporate identity as worshiping Christians each Sunday we meet together is this: First, we gather to praise God. Second, we gather to seek repentance for our shortcomings and live into a forgiveness that allows us a new beginning once more.

Within that context, Luke’s narrative takes us through several “lost and found” stories, the culmination of which is today’s text[2] – most often referred to as the Parable or story of the Prodigal Son. However, the story is deeper and broader than a narrow focus on the Prodigal alone and probably warrants a re-naming. One suggestion I came across was “The Father Who Lost Two Sons.”[3] Another suggestion I have heard is simply, “The Parable of the Father and Sons.”[4] Either way, I submit that all of us understand at an instinctual level that we have probably fit the shoes of both sons at one time or another.

Each of us has probably experienced the lost-ness of the Prodigal and the longing to come home to be forgiven and received with open arms, even if on the surface we say, like the Prodigal in the text, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands…” (15:18-19). In truth, I suspect below the surface of that prepared speech is the much more real longing for loving, forgiving acceptance – something all of us need.

In addition to that, let us not forget that likely, each of us has also been in a position of the elder son; at least I know I have fallen sway to smug feelings of self-righteousness[5] over and above my brother or sister…maybe even my parents, classmates, fellow Christians, and near and far neighbors of our faith and others.   Such smugness is no less hurtful to God, and shows yet another kind of lost-ness.

However, identifying with either of the brothers in the story, can sometimes put shades over our eyes to a deeper reality. Whether we have brothers and/or sisters of our own or even if we are an only child, what is it that we often miss in this story? The reality of the magnitude of the grace and love expressed by God, represented by the Father figure.

Grace – not just simple grace but expectant grace, a vigilant grace; grace just waiting to catch us up and embrace us, welcoming us home with wide open arms. Love – not just parental love or a welcome home love, but unconditional celebratory resurrection love … “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” (Luke 15:24).

This is the central message of the parable. It is not necessarily about the Prodigal Son (although it is that), nor is it necessarily about the pious dutiful son (although it is that too), but it is primarily about the deep and abiding love of God; a deep grace-filled love, watching and waiting for the dead prodigal to come home once more.

This is a true illustration of the Kingdom of God. This is the core message of the Gospel, the main point of Christianity itself! Here is the loving father, focusing not on either of the sons, but instead, turning our attention to God’s love and bounty – “all that is mine is yours” he says (15:31). The party is not for the younger son, per say, it is a party of God – being thrown for many…God is on the lookout for all God’s loved ones, near or far. God looks for them and is ready to celebrate with them before they even think of responding or giving back.

Moreover, every time God’s active, stretching, searching, healing love finds someone and calls that person back home, it does not mean there is less for the rest of us. Instead, it means there is more to celebrate as all us Prodigals come home.[6]

Michael Curry comments on today’s text with this sentiment:

“As the story unfolds, it is clear that the parable is more about the determined, compassionate, infinite providence of God than it is about the ways of God’s prodigal children. In the end, this parable points to the great embrace and deep expansive love, compassion, and justice of God, deeper, wider, and higher than our imaginings.[7]

Curry concludes with a brief excerpt from Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s God Has a Dream:

“I have a dream, God says. Please help Me to realize it. It is a dream of a world whose ugliness and squalor and poverty, its war and hostility, its greed and harsh competitiveness, its alienation and disharmony are changed into their glorious counterparts, when there will be more laughter, joy, and peace, where there will be justice and goodness and compassion and love and caring and sharing. I have a dream that swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, that My children will know that hey are members of one family, the human family, God’s family, My family.”[8]

As heirs with Christ to the Kingdom of God, our dream can be no less.

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us; even Him who is the Head of our Church, Jesus Christ. Amen? May it be so.

Questions for Reflection and Daily Prayers – Taken from Feasting on the Word

In what ways am I like the prodigal son? In what ways am I like the elder son?

Household Morning Prayer:

Loving God, in all I do this day, use me as a sign of your reconciling love. Let me not view anyone from a human point of view, but let me see all whom I will encounter with the eyes of Christ, through whom I pray. Amen.

Household Evening Prayer: 

Merciful God, if like the prodigal son I have strayed from you this day, call me back to your loving embrace. If like the elder son, I have harbored resentment for the grace you give to others, reprove me. Help me claim in thought and deed the inheritance of the saints who share with Jesus compassion and forgiveness to all who lose their way. Amen.

[1] Adapted from a poem by Ted Loder

[2] Deffenbaugh, Daniel G. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide.

[3] Rissman, Kal W. Excerpt from The Minister’s Annual Manual ; Logos Productions, Inc. 2016-2017.

[4] Griggs, Don, HR. Pastor, Educator.

[5] Turan, Steve. Excerpt from The Minister’s Annual Manual ; Logos Productions, Inc. 2016-2017.

[6] Clapp, Rodney. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide.

[7] Curry, Michael B. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide.

[8] Curry, Michael B., Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide, quoting Desmond Tutu, God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time (New York: Doubleday, 2004, 19-20.

 

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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