Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘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!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’
A friend recently reflected that the story in Sunday’s Gospel, commonly known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, might be better understood as the Parable of the Prodigal Father and the Two Lost Sons. In his answer to the scribes’ and Pharisees’ complaint that he welcomes and eats with sinners, Jesus tells a story of the lavish, extravagant, joyous — and some might find reckless or “prodigal” — response of a father to his returning runaway son, and the resentment of the stay-at-home older son. Jesus strongly implies the scribes and Pharisees are like the older son, grumbling because these sinners don’t “deserve” to be welcomed and forgiven.
While many interpretations focus on the repentance of the wayward son, most of us likely relate to the older son who has followed the rules and done what is right. From his perspective (and perhaps ours?), it isn’t fair that his brother be welcomed so lavishly. But the story is not about what is fair; it is about God’s grace and mercy. There is nothing “fair” about God’s mercy (check out the parable of the vineyard workers in Matthew 20:1–16!). Rather, God’s grace and mercy are extravagant, generous, and as boundless as God’s love. In his book The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen notes that, “Unlike a fairy tale, the parable provides no happy ending. Instead, it leaves us face to face with one of life’s hardest spiritual choices: to trust or not to trust in God’s all-forgiving love.” As people of faith, can we accept God’s mercy and trust God’s all-forgiving love? Can we show others God’s generous love, regardless of what they have done or how we see them?
Bruce Epperly walks us through the parable and reminds us that “grace abounds and will guide us to a celebration of healing and restoration.”
As Christians we must constantly be reminded that we don’t get to decide who is deserving of God’s love. And to do God’s work in the world, we are called to be as lavish as the Holy One.
Artist James B. Janknegt imagines the parable in a painting. Commentator Victoria Emily Jones notes the artist, “[i]nterprets it visually for the present day, localizing it to his native Texas.” The younger son “is reduced to eating his meals from a dumpster.” Afterward, “he hops on a bus, and when the bus can take him no farther, he hitchhikes, catching one, two, three rides, then walks the rest of the way until his shoes wear out.” After the father welcomes the son back, the elder son is angry. “He breaks the neck of his guitar across his thigh…His heart is as dead as the cattle skull at his feet.” (The image is larger than the screen so be sure scroll side to side.)
The Rolling Stones tell the story of one of the sons in this Sunday’s parable.
Anglican poet George Herbert imagines entering into Divine Love.
Where is God when we suffer? Sundays at 10am, join Discovery for a series exploring the book of Job and discuss how the story of one man who lost it all speaks to us today. This week, Summerlee Staten moderates a discussion with the Discovery community.
Mondays at 5:30pm, join Dr. Kathy Bozzuti-Jones for The River: Poetry and Practice as she leads mindfulness practice, reflects on a contemporary poem, shares how poetry can be used on your spiritual journey, and provides questions for ongoing reflection.