Our Gospel reading scheduled for this week in Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, n Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, The Prodigal Son, is among the best known of all Jesus’ parables. So, we wonder, what can we say about this that hasn’t already been said? Each time I read this I wonder, with whom do I relate in the story?
The parable leaves two themes in tension:
- A father whose love exceeds the bounds of human understanding, for no typical father or human being, would act as he does
- The reaction and behavior of the elder brother, who cannot join in the rejoicing over the lost being found. After all ,he was the faithful son who did as he was expected
The two themes stand on their own, independent of one other. But they have in common something at a deeper level. In his preaching Jesus revealed that the love of God surpasses all understanding and typical expressions known to humanity. That love is celebrated in the scene in which the father rushes out to greet the Prodigal without any knowledge of his repentance or motives and orders the celebration for his homecoming. There are no questions asked by the father and no explanations made by the younger. But the elder son, who professes to be and have been worthy of the father’s love and preference evoke resentment; after all wasn’t he the worthy one?
So, with whom do we relate…certainly not the father; perhaps as the elder and maybe sometimes like the Prodigal? But what about the community of followers, listening to the story? Can we relate to them?
According to Nancy Rockwell, Lost is what happened, and it is human, and thank God that Found is also part of being human! Lost is a way of life for all of us from time to time. Then why do we emphasize the lost? Our churches will not be the green pastures, the good havens we fervently want, until Lost and Found becomes the desires of our hearts rather than experiences we want to avoid. (The Bite of the Apple).
So what else can we say about this story? Why is this jubilant parable selected by the lectionary for Lent and begins with…?
All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."
So Jesus told them this parable: