Luke 15.1-3, 11-32
All the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’
So he told them this parable: ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe – the best one – and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.
‘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.” ’
The prodigal son said: I will get up and go to my father.
This parable is one of the best known passages from scripture. It has long been associated with the Lenten journey. It speaks of a young son who, in his folly, separates himself from his loving father, but then realises his stupidity and finds the strength to seek forgiveness. In those few words we see all that should be shaping our journeys through Lent.
We do not have to set out to separate ourselves from our loving heavenly Father … we achieve that every day of our lives. Every time we cross the boundaries set by the teachings of Jesus we trespass into the realm of the devil. As we become settled and comfortable in a life of self-indulgence we are nestling into an eternal embrace, but the embracing arms are the arms of the devil and not our loving Father. As we strive to improve our lot no matter who might be harmed in the process, we are lining up with the forces of evil, and not the angelic host. However we look at it, we are sinful creatures because we so readily focus on the negative rather than on our privileged position of being made in the image of God.
The parable of the prodigal son gives us hope when we might be on the point of giving up. As we become increasingly focused on self, and as we become more and more comfortable in the company of the devil and all his works, we need to look for the outstretched hand. That outstretched hand is the hand of our loving heavenly Father who, despite all we might do, is always ready to welcome us home and to lead the celebrations at our repentance.
There will be those who resent the forgiveness that we are able to receive from God. There will be those who place themselves in the role of judge and jury and will seek to pass a sentence of eternal condemnation. Such people will point the finger of blame and they will be vocal in their scepticism about our returning to Christ’s sheepfold. When that happens we need to pause and pray for those angry people, no matter who they might be. We need to give thanks that we saw God’s outstretched hand, and that we found the strength to grasp it. Then we need to pray for the angry and the vengeful, that they might come to realise just how deep in the devil’s embrace they are. We need to pray that they might also grasp the outstretched hand in faith, find the humility to admit their faults, and return once again into the community of faith, renewed and reinvigorated for the mission God has prepared for them.
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