The Prodigal Son
Fourth Sunday in Lent, 10th of March, 2013
Br Bruce-Paul, SSF
In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen
Sieger Koder's painting of the arrival home of the younger son into the joyful embrace of his father with the resentful elder son and brother hiding around the corner speaks volumes to us about the themes of exclusion and embrace that Fr Hugh spoke of last week and which form the fabric of so much of our human relationships. Take a few seconds now to look at the hands in the painting as Sieger Koder paints them: the Dad's hands of gentle embrace, the son's hands gratefully holding on to his loving Dad, and the taut twisted hands of the angry resentful elder son.
Two of our three liturgical readings today deal with the themes of "ARRIVAL" or "RETURN". Joshua tells of the Israelites celebration of the first Passover meal in the land of Canaan and their eating of the food and drinking of the wine of the Promised Land into which they have come. Grain, grapes and olives will sustain them now. The wilderness gift of manna ceases.
The climax of Luke's parable is the Prodigal Son's arrival home to to his father's surprising welcome. The younger son's careful scripting of his words to offer his father are all for nothing. The father is not waiting for words. He runs and embraces the lost one in joyful welcome! In the spontaneity of the father is the beginning of a new relationship—a new creation indeed.
This is the essence of reconciliation as Saint Paul puts it in Second Corinthians. There is no counting of trespasses, wrongs or stupidities but joyful acceptance, reconciliation, and the empowering grace of resurrected life and relationship that impels the recipients of it to share it with others. Well may we sing with the Hebrew Psalmist:
- I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
- and delivered me from all my fears.
- Look to him, and be radiant;
- so your faces shall never be ashamed.
BUT!.....Was it as easy as that? Let's look more closely at Luke's parable.
Jesus tells a story of a man with two sons. The younger asks for his share of his dad's substance—perhaps about a quarter to a third of the total property. He goes away to a far country and wastes it all. Destitute, he finds himself feeding pods to pigs.
Desperate, he arrives at self-awareness, recognises that he could be elsewhere and scripts his speech of repentance for his Dad. Recognition and repentance prompt action. He sets off for home ready to eat humble pie and do the tasks of a hired worker.
Ever on the look-out, a heart brimming with love, his Dad recognises his son, runs to him, embraces him, restores and welcomes him to his place in the household as a son.
No question of being a servant.
The rejoicing begins and the fatted calf says "Damn!"
There is a pattern here: Recognition, Response, Rejoicing.
But there is more. The elder son who has loyally stayed working at home with Dad caring for Dad and his substance, returns from the fields, is surprised by the noise and music of the rejoicing, reacts to the news of his brother's return and refuses to celebrate. He excludes himself from relationship: "This son of yours...!"
There is a pattern here too: Return, Reaction, Refusal.
But the Dad comes out to him. Listens to the accumulated resentment and anger and responds to his son, who is also beloved, with a reminder of relationship: "This brother of yours....!"
You too belong and are in my heart and love. The elder son is challenged to reverse his rejection and restore relationship and join in the rejoicing.
This is hard relational stuff; nothing easy here. The past competitiveness has to give way to something new, that can only be spoken of in terms of resurrection and new creation, and therefore has never been experienced by these brothers and their father before.
Such human transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit embodying in the way of Jesus Christ. I say these words deliberately because it is so easy for you and me to put ourselves in the place of the younger son who is amazingly restored to relationship with his Dad. We read here Dad for God.
However, the reality is that as Church and Christians, women and men, young and old, we are standing in the place of the elder son full of unrecognised angers and resentments and violent grumbling against others and our circumstances.
We risk remaining in the place of comparison, over against those whose lives are different or "other" than our own. "They should stay at home and work like us." We fear God's gift of freedom that allows others to be different—so we exclude rather than embrace. In this fear, grace is lost to us.
But we do not have to remain in this place. Every time we celebrate the Eucharist and receive the body and blood of Christ—the food of God's freedom—we are enabled to move out beyond ourselves and let go of our compulsion to exclude and receive with joy the gracious embrace of God and our neighbours.
All this is from God our beloved "Abba" through Christ in the Holy Spirit.