Fourth Sunday in Lent—Year C—March 10, 2013

Fourth Sunday in Lent—Year C—March 10, 2013

Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham

Let the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, our strength and redeemer.  Amen.

The parable that we hear Jesus tell this morning is one of his most famous.  It is right up there with the Good Samaritan.  Both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Charles Dickens agree that it was the greatest story in the Bible…or out of it.

And that highlights an important point: this is a story, not just an analogy or a simple fable that we are to learn a specific lesson or moral from.  This parable is more complex than that.  Each time we read it, we encounter it in a different way, identifying with a different character or struck by a certain line.

This is demonstrated in the many different ways that the story is titled.  Just in the Bibles in my office, this same story is titled:

“the story of the lost son”

“the parable of the lost prodigal son”

“the parable of the prodigal and his brother”

“the parable of the waiting father”

and I know that many others are out there.  These titles greatly influence how we read and understand the story.  From the title we are told how many important characters are there?  How are those characters described?  Is the younger son pigeonholed as being prodigal—“a person who spends money in a recklessly extravagant way.”  Or is it most important to note that he was lost?

If you were writing your own version of the story:

What would you title it?

Whose perspective would you tell it from?

And the deeper question I am asking is: today, what character do you mostly closely identify with?

At the story begins…are you the younger son?

–       Eager for independence, excited for adventure, ready to see the world?

–       Wanting what you think you are due right now?

–       Interesting in immediate gratification?

–       Young and reckless?

Or are you like the elder son?

–       Eager to live into the expectations set for you?

–       Wanting to earn what you receive?

–       Feeling a sense of responsibility to serve?

–       Hardworking and loyal?

Or the father?

–       Eager to provide all that is requested of you?

–       Wanting to give your children space to learn?

–       Showing your love through material things?

–       Foolish enough to spilt up your land holdings and sell some off?

How about as the story develops…are you the younger son?

–       Left out in the cold, to live with the pigs, because no one shows you hospitality?

–       Struggling to make ends meet because there is a famine in the land?

–       Irresponsible with what has been given and entrusted to you?

–       Separated from your family and far from home?

–       Scared, naked, hungry?

–       Noticing that life is not quite what you expected it would be?

–       Realizing that you have made big mistakes?

–       Trying to figure out where and to whom you can go for relief?

–       Wishing for your old life back?

–       Are you lost, waiting to be found?

–       Are you dead, waiting to be brought back to life?

Or are you like the elder son?

–       Hardworking, and sometimes feeling like you are the only one doing any work?

–       Do you feel used and abused?  Neglected and underappreciated?

–       Do you even think about your younger brother? Or have you completely written him off?

Are you the father?

–       Foolishly holding out hope that your child will return?

–       Hoping to reconnect and rekindle broken relationships?

–       Wondering if maybe the worst has happened?

–       Trying to get on with your life with what you have left?

How about as the story concludes…are you the younger son?

–       Truly repentant? Or just hedging your bets?

–       Overwhelmed by the love you are shown?

–       Grateful for the second chance, the new life, you have been given?

–       Feeling alive and human again as you reenter relationships?

Or are you like the elder son?

–       Resentful of your younger brother?

–       Wondering where YOUR fatted calf is?

–       Feeling that someone else’s relationship takes away from yours?

–       Wondering if there is enough to go around?

–       Are you jealous?  Are you justified in that jealousy?

–       Are you questioning what you thought was true and right?

–       Can you find it in your heart to forgive and accept your sibling back?

Are you the father?

–       Foolishly watching the horizon with anticipation and hope?

–       Foolishly running to a figure that you think might be your son?

–       Greeting him in a ridiculous manner, not one fit for a landowner, such as yourself?

–       Loving all your children totally, but displaying it in different ways?

–       Knowing that there is room enough in the kingdom for everyone?

At times, we probably have all acted like the younger brother and felt like the older brother, but have we loved and accepted like the father?  No one in this story is without fault or foolishness…but  “sometimes we have to choose between being right and being in relationship.”[1]  Although there are many various titles, they do have one thing in common, they all use familial words, words of relationship.  The characters are primarily indentified by their relationship to the others.

So even though our perspective of the story may change from day to day, year to year, reading to reading, let us at least hear it as a reminder that we are in a relationship, we are primarily defined as children of God, and we are engulfed by the love that such a title precludes.

And in the end, hopefully we can also be a little like all three main characters:

–       Like the younger—although we might be prodigal or lost, knowing that we are loved and are accepted back, with open arms and foolish, ridiculous amounts of love, no matter how long or far we stray.

–       Like the elder—although sometimes we feel jealous or that we are the only ones working, knowing our love and acceptance is no more or less than that of any other child of God, even though it might look different.

–       Like the father—although sometimes we are foolish and ridiculous, it is God’s way to lean on the side of love, acceptance, and gratitude, and knowing that we are called to do the same. Amen.

[1] David Lose,

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