Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
“Every parent is at some time the father of the unreturned prodigal, with nothing to do but keep his house open to hope.” – John Ciardi
This Sunday we have Jesus’ famous parable of the Prodigal Son (see Greek below). It is so called because we focus on the runaway kid. But if we centered on the father we might call it the parable of the merciful compassionate welcoming home father. If we spotlighted the elder son we might call it the parable of the resentful son. Any of those titles would be appropriate because as we hear this saga we are looking for ourselves. Who are we in this story? Are we sometimes the younger son or daughter? Have we not squandered or wasted what has been entrusted to us? Have we run away from difficult relationships, or from church, or from civic duty, or from needy people? Have we tried to care only for our selfish needs and found ourselves empty and vacuous? And do we not often repent, turn back? Then on our finer days are we not the father or mother? Sometimes our better angels lead us to compassion (see Greek below) so that we run out to welcome those who have offended us, or abandoned us. The father in this story is not just an image of God, he is our image. We also keep our house open to hope. And finally, we regretfully are at times the elder son, angered at the mercy shone to those who have not earned it. We work hard and are always faithful. Is it difficult for us to rejoice that God loves and forgives those who do not work hard and are not faithful? We are the prodigal child; we are the welcoming parent; we are the resentful elder sibling. All three of these characters live in each one of us. We are not easy to understand. We are living paradoxes, strange enigmas. That is why we are all so beautiful. God shows good taste by loving each and every one of us.
The title “Prodigal” comes from Greek words that describe this son. In Luke 15:13, while the son is off in a far distant land, the Greek verb describing his actions can be translated squander, waste, or scatter. In the same verse we have a Greek adverb that could be translated wastefully, recklessly or immorally. In Luke 15:30 his brother says he “devoured” the living.
In Luke 15:20, when the father sees the son far off returning, it says he had compassion. Literally the Greek word says he was moved in his bowels. The bowels were considered the seat of compassion.
Look in the mirror.
Prodigal, elder, father.
All wrapped together.