St. Peter and St. Paul are at the Pearly Gates. Paul is looking through The Book of Names, and he says to Peter, "There are more people in heaven than there is supposed to be! Go find out what has happened!" Peter runs off, and some time later he returns to Paul. Paul says, "Did you find out why there are too many people here?" Peter says, "It's Jesus. He's helping people in over the back fence again..."Today is a day for laughter, a day when we could kick up our heals and enjoy the sound of rain (instead of snow)… and wouldn’t it be nice, if we had a lot of money, we could travel and see the world and be our own boss. Isn’t that part of the American dream after all? But we also know that money does not equal happiness & a good life and there are some famous athletes who prove this to be true.
John Daly who gambled away 60 million of his earnings, or Evander Holyfield who lost 250 million in earnings through poor business decisions and extravagant living, then there is Mike Tyson who lost 400 million, and we could go on… Sadly, such stories are not uncommon even among those who do not have such millions, earnings lost to addiction or extravagant living or even a poor business decision that really turns bad in the midst of this economy. The parable of the prodigal son is lived out each day, all around us, but what is most extraordinaire is not the son but the forgiving father.
The parable is captured in these images:
- an icon of the father holding the son
- a replica from a statue in the gardens at the National Cathedral in Washington
– father holding the son (Rembrandt's Return of the Prodigal Son)
As one author put it,
“The prodigal son knows he’s a dead son. He can’t come home as a son and yet in his father’s arms he rises from the dead and then he is able to come to his father’s side. The dead son, the no good Prodigal Son, is home. He has been raised from the dead by his father’s embrace. He has done nothing to earn it…” (Robert Farrar Capon)As Jesus once told this parable, a parable about family. Isn’t it true that often there is a child who is sulking and another laughing: one who is in trouble and another who was good and listens, failure and achievement often sit side by side in our house. And yet in this parable, the father lovingly embraces the son who ran off, and calms the other son who is fuming at his return… The father loves. He forgives his child before he can really apologize. He tells his other child that he is always with him and all that he has is his, but he had to rejoice for he who was dead - is alive, because he who was lost - is found. In these reassuring words are the words of God to us…
For the father in the parable is often identified with God, and we are identified as the two sons, the younger and the elder, the one whom fumes and the one who sulks… The parable shows us through the father figure, that God’s forgiveness is for us all. It is grace. Not because we earned it, but because God wills it. And the son is restored, but what about the good kid? Don’t many of you here feel more like the eldest than the youngest. The one who stood by his parents, never leaving and yet feeling left out at the end…
We may wonder if the eldest ever did go in and enjoy the party and welcome back his brother. But the real questions for us, is will we? Will we, the good kids go in when the not so good are welcomed back? And the father looks at us and give us those words, “You are with me always and all I have is yours” No matter what, its all yours, you are always with me, says God. Drop the resentment, the anger, let it go and come, enjoy the party! The only way we get left out in the cold is if we decide to stay there.
No matter what part of the parable you see yourself in, the father, the Prodigal Son, the good ol’ son, know that here at this table you are invited, welcomed at this party, this feast…for in the midst of our Lent, on this day of Refreshment, God gives us life in the bread of heaven and cup of salvation, so that God can live in us and we in God.
May the story of the Prodigal Son and the words of assurance from our God guide your life, help you to forgive others, be the cornerstone of your house, and help you trust in the surety of God's good heart for you. Amen.