Who do we choose to welcome?
That is what our Gospel lesson for this weekend asks. We will be reading one of the most famous and studied parables that Jesus ever tells: the Prodigal Son.
It is a story that many of us have heard before. A well-beloved tale partially because we all know what we think it means.
A father has two sons. The younger one asks for his inheritance early. Takes it to a distant land and spends it frivolously on dissolute living. When he finds himself starving and feeding pigs, he returns home to beg to become a servant in his father’s house. However, when his father sees him coming, he runs to the young man and embraces him. And when the son starts in on his prepared speech, the father stops him, calls in a servant and has his son taken in, cleaned, fed, and throws a party.
Then, when the older brother returns in from a long day of work on the farm, he asks one of the servants what’s happening. Upon learning the truth, he calls to his father, clearly disgruntled. His father’s response is twofold. First, he reminds him that everything he has already belongs to the older son. Then, he says that we need to always rejoice when one who has been lost comes home.
Two things to think about as we head into this weekend.
The first is the definition of prodigal. It means, in essence, “a ridiculous amount; extravagant or lavish.” It does not mean lost, contrary to what we have come to believe. So, see if you can answer this question: who was the true prodigal in this story: the younger son or the father? Why might that be important?
A second thing to consider is that renowned New Testament scholar Amy-Jill Levine, one of my professors from Vanderbilt, would point out that the object of this parable is to learn how to choose wisely. Due to where it falls in Jesus’s teachings, he is trying to help his disciples learn what it means to follow in God’s footsteps. Meaning that though some of us may have been the younger son at some point in our lives, our place in this parable is as the older son. The one who has had everything. How will we respond as the prodigal father reaches out to this wayward child?
Just a few ponderings as we look together toward another step in our Lenten journey growing closer to Holy Week. See you soon!
Blessings, Pastor Janie