A familiar parable
In the gospel for the fourth Sunday of Lent we hear again the often-told story of the prodigal son. Because the plot is so familiar, we may not bother to pay attention to its many details, but then we would be missing a magnificent opportunity to learn the many lessons the parable offers. If you put yourself in the scene that the parable describes, notice how very real and timeless the human drama feels. Take one of the characters and allow yourself to see the story unfolding as he would see it; feel what that character might have felt. And then sit back and let the Spirit take over.
Consider the youthful immaturity of the younger son who makes an impulsive, short-sighted decision that he wants his inheritance, and he wants it now. His is a story of seeking immediate gratification and learning one of life’s lessons the hard way. Consequences hit him hard, and in his desperation the young man’s common sense kicks in and guides him to remember the father whose love for him had never lessened; he then makes the right choice. Our lives are certainly less dramatic, but which of us has not had to learn from our mistakes? When did we realize that we had used bad judgment? What helped us to redirect? Are we better off for having learned the lesson? Or are we still in the process of learning? What is our reality?
The older brother has developed an admirable sense of responsibility, but apparently his motivation has not measure up to his work patterns. Why does he fulfill his tasks? For whom does he labor? Does he realize the tremendous love, trust, and confidence that his father has placed in him? Does he worry about his absent sibling? The parable does not tell us, but we are free to wonder, if once he cooled down, was the older brother surprised at his own angry, jealous outburst? Are there not times when we catch ourselves acting in a way that displays our prejudice, our jealousy, our sense of superiority, our unwillingness to forgive?
The father, of course, represents God whose love is total, unconditional, and unending, no matter how often or how severely we mess up. Jesus makes the point very powerfully when he says in the parable, “While he [the son] was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him… .this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again. He was lost and has been found.” And the celebration began. Does this description of the father match the way that you feel about God?
Or possibly you might make the father your character of choice and you could read the parable again as a parent. How do you know what course you should take when your son or daughter pushes for more freedom? Do you feel that they are not yet ready to handle what they are requesting, or do you realize that at this point in their lives they will never grow up if you are an overprotective helicopter parent? And are you ready to heal their egos when they goof off? Are you ready to embrace and kiss the child who was dead and has come to life again, the one who was lost and has been found? There probably is a reason that the church presents this parable to us every year halfway through Lent. Are you ready to hear the lesson that God may intend for you?