Lent 4C 2019-03-31
(written by Kit Allgood-Mellema)
Today’s gospel reading is one of a series of parables found in Luke, beginning in chapter 13 and
continuing through chapter 16. What is a parable? It’s a short and simple story used to illustrate
a truth. A parable’s meaning may not be stated, but it is intended to be fairly obvious. We often
aren’t told the end result – remember last week’s parable of the fig tree? Did it produce fruit
the following year? I think of a parable as a piece of paper with only a few lines and shapes
drawn on it; as I listen, I’m given a box of colored pencils and invited to connect the lines and
shapes, add the color and complete the picture.
The parable we heard today is one of the best-known, called the Prodigal Son. First let me say
that, given the chance, I’d re-name this parable. I’ll share it with you in a bit. Jesus told this
parable in response to Pharisees grumbling about him eating with sinners. The story is about a
man who had two sons. Here’s where I started to connect some of the lines and shapes, and
take a different look at the story. I guessed this man was fairly wealthy, with land, livestock,
servants, and enough money to give his sons. This was a family, so I included a mother, a
woman who was wise and adept at taking care of a busy household. She and her husband were
deeply in love with each other, a relationship that was the foundation of the family life. They
both loved and cherished their sons.
The two sons were very different – the older son was always serious, introverted and quiet,
intelligent, loyal to his family and hardworking; the younger was smart, quick, happy-go-lucky
and outgoing, easily distracted. He played pranks on his brother, who tolerated his antics as he
kept an eye on him. As different as the boys were, there was true affection between them.
No one was surprised when younger brother came to his father asking for his inheritance. That
night, father and mother quietly agreed it was risky to give it to him, but they reminded
themselves they loved the young man and had raised him well, and so it was done. A few days
later, the boy left after embracing his mother and kissing his father, while his older brother
watched from the fields, nodding and waving as the boy strode away.
And so the waiting began. The entire household felt the change. As days turned into weeks,
occasionally a traveler would stop by with cautious news – I saw your boy a few weeks ago. He
looks all right and sends his best. Older brother would shake his head and turn away as the
parents exchanged glances. Mother spent hours in prayer; father had many sleepless nights as
he struggled between anger and worry. Weeks turned into months, and the news dwindled
until one day a traveler, in answer to father’s questions, reluctantly admitted he had seen
younger son, poor, starving and ill, working as a swineherd, an unthinkable job for a Jew. That
night, while mother tearfully prayed and reminded the distraught father they loved their son
and had raised him well, the older son sat aside, nursing his anger at the grief his brother had
brought on the family, and aching inside at the loss of his friend.
Time moved on. There was no further word. Everyone felt the weight of the days. Mother held
the household together, and spent time with older brother. Older brother immersed himself in
work while father went through his days, sometimes supervising in the fields, but usually sitting
under the tree and staring absent-mindedly in the distance. On one of those days, he saw a
traveler approach, and began to call to mother to prepare a place for a guest, when he took
another look. He pulled himself up, and while the whole household stared in amazement,
father broke into a run toward the road, returning in a few moments with tears streaming
down his face and his arms wrapped around a thin, dirty, barely clothed young man, hardly
recognizable as the younger son. After he had composed himself, father and mother helped the
servants wash and clothe their son while a feast was prepared. In his exhausted state, the boy
was confused by the welcome; he had expected to be punished and sent away. But his father
had brushed away his confession, and here he was in the arms of his loving family.
During the feast, mother slipped out, looking for older brother. But father had already found
him and was listening quietly to his son as he poured out his anger, fears and grief. Father
lovingly embraced him, and looking at him with compassion, reminded older son that his love
for him had only grown deeper over the time they had been together. He begged him to join
the celebration, reminding him this was ‘his brother’ whom he had always loved.
We don’t know the end of the parable, but I believe over time, the entire family reconciled as
they began life together anew. What else could they do? That was their foundation, it was what
they were raised with and knew deep in their hearts.
I think that’s what Jesus was saying to the Pharisees and to us with this story: your foundation
is love. That’s what you see me doing right now – loving the ones who need it most. That’s
what you’ve been raised on, and it’s always been there for you to see and share. No matter
what you do, how far away you stray, or how long you wander, God is waiting to shower you
with extravagant love, whether you are angry or lost or afraid, whether or not you think you are
worth it. God will always have arms of love stretched out, showing us how we are to embrace
all our lost and wounded sisters and brothers in love.
What would I call this parable? The Parable of Our Loving Family. Like us, this was indeed a
family grounded in love.
Thanks be to God.