St. Mary Nanoose Bay
March 31, 2019
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
The Parable of the Prodigal Son
In the gospel reading this morning, we heard the parable, or story, of the Prodigal Son. As an adjective, prodigal means “wasteful, extravagant, spendthrift, improvident, imprudent, immoderate, profligate, thriftless, excessive, intemperate, irresponsible, self-indulgent, reckless, wanton.” So we know which son those words refers to! -the younger son who takes his inheritance and goes to a far off land and “squanders his property in dissolute living.” And when this younger son has run through all his inheritance, he finds himself envying what the pigs he ends up caring for, are eating. He decides to risk his father’s wrath, return home and ask for forgiveness. And what a lucky guy – his father not only forgives him, he celebrates his return by killing the fatted calf and putting on a party!
This past Wednesday in the library before Bible Study and Hymn Sing, Trefor led us in a guided meditation that centred on the older son in today’s gospel reading. We often think the older son is peripheral to the story, but as in all Jesus’ tales and teachings, not a word or character are superfluous. What do we know about the older son? We know he was working in the field; that he had no idea what was going on when he arrives home at the end of the day and hears music and dancing. When a slave tells him, there’s a celebration because his younger brother has returned, he becomes angry and refuses to join the party. His father comes out to plead with him to come in, he says, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!”
Hearing these words from the older son, what adjectives would describe this son? “Resentful, angry, self-righteous, judgmental, ungrateful, rigid, competitive, hard-hearted, victim, lacking humility and grace.”
Now listen to what the father says, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. We celebrate and rejoice because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”
In other words, you have everything, you always have, you just haven’t been able to see or know it. Your brother thought he knew what was best for him, went away and lost everything. He woke up and realized that it’s not stuff he needs, it’s relationship with me. Because in this relationship he will have what you have had all along.
The older son is stuck in a story about scarcity. He has not yet woken up to what he has and who his father is, and what his father does. His father provides – always has, always will.
So it might be obvious to say but the father is God, and we are his sons. We have both within us, the part that wants to break loose and try things our way, and the one that is obedient and resentful. The point isn’t that one is better than the other, the point is to wake up and see what we have/what we have always had, and with this new awareness, return to God, return to love. I am a younger sibling and an older one.
My little sister is two years younger than me and when we were growing up, we were polar opposites. So our parents treated us differently, looking to meet our needs as they saw best. When I was 9 years old or so, I decided that they loved Helen more than me and became determined to prove my point. For example, when it was my turn to sit in the front of the car, I’d say, “Oh, Helen can sit there,” and my father would ask, “Are you sure?” and I’d insist, “Yes.” Or, my mother would ask if I wanted more dessert and I’d say, “No, give it to Helen.” And she’d comply and I would mentally put another check mark in the proof column that they loved her more than me. In retrospect, I see that I must have driven my parents crazy. I couldn’t understand that she needed different kind of attention than I did, and in comparing what she got and what I got, I felt gypped. I was like the older brother in Jesus’ parable. Of course now I can see that I was loved beautifully by my parents. They just weren’t perfect but that too was perfect for me because I had to learn some very important life lessons.
Then it was my turn to parent. I remember one incident where our five-year-old shouted in anger, “You love Theo (his toddler brother) more than me.” Luckily, the childhood experience just related to you had been composted into wisdom. “What is it that you need and are not getting from me?” I asked him. “Nothing!” he said and stomped away. Minutes later he returned, and he had 3 complaints. One of which was that he wasn’t getting the kind of bedtime cuddles he liked and was used to. Within minutes, I was holding him in my lap. And I suddenly realized, we hadn’t even mentioned his little brother in our conversation.
What is it that you feel you are not getting from God? What are you angry or resentful about? Talk to God. Don’t stuff it down and let it bubble up when there’s a party. You’ll miss out on all the fun!
Where are you stuck on your high horse, feeling self righteous? Where have you been trying to earn God’s love and approval? God doesn’t play that game! Jesus tells us that God makes the sun to shine on everyone, and the rain to fall on everyone. God’s love is unconditional which means we don’t have to earn it or be good in order to deserve it. I’m not saying there aren’t consequences when we go against that love, that divine order, there are. But that’s not punishment. Those are consequences to help re-direct us, to wake us up.
Why do we compare ourselves to others? Do we think each one of us is identical – given the same talents, gifts, challenges, journey? As someone said during Bible Study this week, why would you resent people who get welfare? Do you want their life? Poverty, mental illness, abuse, alcoholism, dysfunction?
What is it that we think we don’t have? What will wake us up to what we have been, are, and will be given? This immense love, this unconditional embrace, the desire to celebrate?
Our God is a God of love. And we understand that love in a very small way. We think God’s love is limited and needs to be meted out to the deserving.
But Jesus came to tell us about a different God. A God who forgives and experiences great joy in relationship; a God who goes after the one lost sheep instead of saying it’s enough to have the majority of them safe. No, our God cares for each and every one!
So let’s not worry about where others are in their journey either away or back towards God. We have enough to deal with ourselves. Let’s stay in our own business and discover what is it that stands between us and God. And maybe if we can figure that out, we can get on our knees and say “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you,” and be ready to feel those loving arms enfold us and say, “Let’s celebrate and rejoice, because you have been asleep, caught up in stories that are not true. Now you have woken up, now you are alive. You’ve come back. I forgive you. You were lost and now been found.”