Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons…”
Ah, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Doubtless, countless times read and heard and preached. Equally doubtless, we (many, most, all of us?), long ago drawing our own conclusions, think that we know, know that we know what the story means. This reality makes gapingly wide the risk that we, listeners and preacher, rushing to the end, will bypass the possibility of seeing something new along the way.
The Apostle Paul, in our epistle reading, speaks of our being “a new creation;” that we, redeemed by the death and resurrection of Jesus, are remade as at the dawn of creation, free of the hindrance of sin. As, by faith, we believe this theological, ontological truth, so, by fact, we know the existential truth that with each passing moment, each experience we, ever being remade, do not, cannot remain the same.
So, in this moment, as we, listeners and preacher, read and hear again the Parable of the Prodigal Son, what something new or, at least, something different might we see?
I bid that we focus on the father, who, twice, crosses the doorstep of his home; the real and symbolic dividing line of all that is inside, familiar, safe and sound, under control, and all that is outside, potentially unknown, unsafe, unsound, uncontrolled. The father, twice, with a fearlessness of faith, a heart of hope, a leap of love steps over his threshold and, with the vulnerable nakedness of open arms, goes out to embrace his prodigal, wasteful sons.
First, the father watched, waited for the return of his younger son, who, prodigally, wastefully requested, demanded his inheritance, in effect, wishing his father dead, then “squandered his property in dissolute living.” And when the father saw his son, he “ran and put his arms around him and kissed him” and, with robe, ring, sandals, and feast with fatted calf, welcomed his son home.
Second, the father, at the party, looked around for his elder son, who, was angry, judging his brother unworthy, undeserving of any bother and judging himself, by virtue of his duty, worthy, deserving every honor, thus, prodigally, wastefully having misunderstood that he could earn the gifts of his life and possessions. His father, missing his elder son, “came out and pleaded with him,” seeking to welcome him in, saying, “all that is mine is (and always has been) yours.”
This is the preeminent image of God who, loving us, longing for us, in Jesus, crosses the threshold from heaven to earth, looking for us to welcome us home, to welcome us in to the banquet feast of eternity.
On Ash Wednesday, we, the “Dear People of God,” were invited “to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance.”(1) Can we, will we, in our self-examination and repentance, hear God’s call to us, prodigal sons and daughters?
For who among us, as the younger son, at some point, in some way, has not desired, perhaps, demanded what we thought, what we felt was ours, and then, taking it for granted, misspent the gift we were given? I know that I have so desired, so demanded, and so done. Many times. And who among us, as the elder son, having labored long without, he believed, due reward, has not felt overlooked, ignored, left out? I know that I have so felt. Many times.
No matter what happens to us in this life, for good or for ill, whether through our choices or by the hands of others or in the crucible of the collusion of chance and circumstance, know this: God loves us, God longs for us, and God always crosses the threshold to come to us and to bring us home.
(1) From the Ash Wednesday Liturgy, The Book of Common Prayer, page 267
The Return of the Prodigal Son, Pompeo Girolamo Batoni (1708-1787)
The father appeals to his elder son, Sweet Publishing/FreeBibleimages.org.