•Joshua 5:9a, 10-12 • 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 • Luke 15:1-3, 11-32•
Weekly scripture readings:Fourth Sunday in Lent
To print a PDF of the homily, click HERE.
I suspect most of you know the parable of today’s gospel so well you can tell it to your grandkids without notes. So I won’t to burden you by retelling the story. Instead I hope I can help you find some fresh, personal insight into this parable of “The Prodigal Son”.
Why did Jesus tell this story? He told it because of the attitudes of the Pharisees toward him. They were good and sincere people. Many considered the Pharisees to be examples of what a pious Jew ought to be. However as Jesus moved around Galilee, he and his companions were surrounded by rumors and even accusations. The Pharisees knew he was attracting more and more people and they found that troublesome.
There were many forms and levels of participation in the Jesus movement. Many were touched by Jesus and drawn by his teaching. They took the Gospel, the good news, to heart.
There were those who crossed his path and whose lives were healed or transformed by him. There were the folks along the way who made their houses available to him and his companions. There were those who only offered “a cup of water” to them as they traveled. There was the broader circle of disciples, folks who welcomed him openly and in faith.
If you check, you will find there is no biblical text in which Jesus calls everyone to follow him. Even the disciples, at least not all of them, were called to be among his closest companions. From all those touched by and attracted to Jesus, only the Twelve were his closest companions.
Notice this. Jesus never makes “being a disciple” or “being one of The Twelve” a requirement for participation in “the Reign of God.” Not everyone then, or now, could be a disciple and not everyone can be among his closest companions. Each person who accepts his message about “the Reign of God” has his or her own calling. Each can, in her own way and to his own capacity, contribute to the building up of the “Reign of God.” No one is a second-class citizen.
What I am doing here is trying to suggest a new level of meaning in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. In the church today, there are many forms and levels of participation in the Christ Mystery. This parable is a statement about the openness expected of us within this community. No one ordained or lay is more or less important than the others. For Jesus, the tax collectors and prostitutes were just as important as Simon Peter and the others.
It is clear Jesus understood every individual is a mystery, with a history. We have different abilities or disabilities and various degrees of freedom. Not everyone can be called to everything and no one is called to something that is completely outside his or her sphere of possibilities.
Some of us may wander off, and disappear from the community. Some of us may walk away and waste our inheritance. Some may gather for liturgy only on Christmas or Easter. The parable warns the Pharisees and us about regarding people as lacking in faith if they do not measure up to our expectations. Jesus never did.
“The Return of the Prodigal Son” is the name of a famous painting by Rembrandt. It is now on display in the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. A woman wanting to study the painting found it nearly impossible to do so for it is hanging in a stairwell. With thousands of visitors it is impossible to pause and contemplate the painting. So to make the best of her visit, she went up and down that stairwell, pushed along by the crowd until her energy ran out. As she left the museum she had this insight. “As we go up and down through all the “staircases” of life, and as we go from heights to depths, God remains constant, our center, our focus, our home where we shall always find a home.” She got the meaning of the parable. With outstretched arms, “The Gracious Mystery” we name God is wastefully extravagant with love.