The Prodigal Son

A retelling of the Prodigal Son based on Luke 15:11-31.

I have two sons. A few years ago my youngest came to me asking for his inheritance—no. He didn’t ask. He begged. He wanted so badly to go out and see the world. We didn’t always get on and he was angry at what he felt was my unfairness. Eventually, I relented and divided everything I had between my two sons.

The younger one left. We didn’t hear from him again for a long time. I thought he was dead but he tells me he was living wild. I don’t know all the details but he wasn’t here. He spent all the money and had to work on a pig farm—of all the unclean animals. Eventually he realized that he had it pretty good in my tent so he came back home.

I saw him coming. I was afraid for him. He had dishonored me before more community by asking for his inheritance and then by leaving. He was no longer a part of the community. I had to do something to protect him. I was afraid my neighbours would see him and kill him because of how he had dishonored me. I ran out to greet him. I put my arms around him. I gave him gift of a ring to show that he was still my son and to show forgiveness for the dishonour he had caused. We went home and I had the best calf killed and threw the biggest party the town had ever seen. I had to appease them some how. I had to repay the dishonour from my son with honour for my friends and neighbours.

My older son had been working in the field. He came home and heard the music, saw the dancing, smelled the calf cooking and was angry. He refused to come to the party. He complained to me, “I have worked hard for you and you never threw me a party. It isn’t fair. How come my brother who dishonours you gets a party while, I worked hard for you receive nothing?” I said to my older son, “you have worked hard but they would have killed your brother. He was dead to us but he has come back to life. He was lost and now he is found. Come join the party for honour restored and your brother’s return.”

Image result for prodigal son leaving

from: wetherekeepers.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/om-my-way-home/

We hear this story and think that father was so glad to have his son back but in reality he had to protect his son from the community and even from his own brother. By extending honour to the son who had dishonoured him, the father placed him under his protection. This story reminds me of families where there might be addiction or mental illness and a child goes off again and again and returns home again and again to safety and love. How difficult it is for those on the outside to understand second and third chances. Like the older brother in this story, friends and neighbours might ask, “Why do you let your child take advantage? Why don’t they just grow up?”

The father in this story was not willing to give up on his son—even if the rest of the community disowned him. Sometimes, we might find ourselves as the son who must return. It is difficult to go back when we have wounded someone. It takes courage to go back and acknowledge our brokenness and admit wrong doing.

Lent invites us into exactly those places. The season of Lent is an opportunity for us to med relationships—to go back to people we have wronged and acknowledge our brokenness. We acknowledge the brokenness not knowing how it will be received. We also need to be open to seeing the brokenness in others and responding with compassion to their vulnerability.

God doesn’t give up on us. We cannot give up on ourselves. We cannot give up in each other.

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Repent: Be in the same place. Behave differently.

Luke 13:1-9,31-36  begins by talking about some terrible things that have happened. Good and faithful people have been killed. How do we make sense of that? Is it because they weren’t as faithful as everyone thought? Jesus ties these events directly to repentance. And there’s judgement in this passage. There’s an underlying sense that if you do not repent, God will cut you down—just like the fig tree that doesn’t bear fruit.

In the passage, Jesus is going around teaching and healing. As he does this, he continues to accuse the Pharisees of being hypocritical and of leading people astray. He accuses in ways that are sometimes very direct and sometimes by telling parables or stories. Some people come to Jesus and tell him that Pilate killed some Jews while they were offering sacrifices. Jesus is very mater-of-fact about these events. He responds by reminding the crowd that things like this have happened before and things like this will happen again. The people who were killed did not do anything to deserve these deaths. It simply happened.

And then he places responsibility onto the people telling him the news. “Unless you repent, you will perish just like they did.” During Lent, we are invited into deeper self-reflection. We are invited to think about our actions and lives. Sometimes sin and repentance can be uncomfortable topics because we connect them to  “worm theology”—a belief that we are horrible people. This theology suggests that we are the lowest of the low and we need Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross to prevent us from rotting in hell. It’s an icky theology and the way we avoid talking about this theology is to get rid of the words and concepts associated with it.

So let’s start in a different place. We are not bad people. We are good people, created in God’s image who make mistakes. These mistakes, in theological language are called sin. The Song of Faith (a statement of belief from the United Church of Canada) describes sin this way:

Yet we choose to turn away from God.
We surrender ourselves to sin,
a disposition revealed in selfishness, cowardice, or apathy.
Becoming bound and complacent
in a web of false desires and wrong choices,
we bring harm to ourselves and others.
This brokenness in human life and community
is an outcome of sin.
Sin is not only personal
but accumulates
to become habitual and systemic forms
of injustice, violence, and hatred.

These mistakes–or sin–do not make us bad. They do not lessen our worth or value but the behavior of sin has the potential to destroy life. If we continue to sin, it eats away at us. It destroys our relationships.

A way out of sin is through repentance. Repentance requires self-reflection. It requires us to look within ourselves and take responsibility for our words and actions. An Israeli soldier describes repentance as being in the same situation and behaving differently. He was witnessing and participating in the occupation of the Palestinian West Bank. He recognized his role in the violence and then refused to participate in violent actions. He is still an Israeli, living in Jerusalem but his behavior changed. Repentance isn’t about beating ourselves up or get stuck in wishful thinking. Repentance invites us into a true change of heart which leads to concrete change in our behavior. If we know we made a mistake and we keep repeating it then we haven’t truly repented.

Image result for parable of the fig tree

from: equipper.gci.org./2016/09/sermon-summary-parable-of-the-fig-tree

In the parable of the fig tree, the owner comes looking for figs. It takes three years for a fig tree to produce, there was a law forbidding eating the fruit for three years. In the seventh year, the figs could be eaten. The owner of the vineyard is impatient and wants figs immediately. The gardener urges patience. We also need to have patience with ourselves and with others as we seek to lessen the impact sin has in our lives.

 

 

The Song of Faith offers these words of hope:

We sing lament and repentance.
Yet evil does not—cannot—
undermine or overcome the love of God.
God forgives,
and calls all of us to confess our fears and failings
with honesty and humility.
God reconciles,
and calls us to repent the part we have played
in damaging our world, ourselves, and each other.

Finally, in the scripture passage Jesus continues to do what God calls him to do: cast out demons, heal, teach. He knows that his path will take him into Jerusalem and into direct confrontation with the authorities. This confrontation has the distinct possibility of leading to death. Jesus recognizes that even in death, evil does not and cannot overpower God’s love. We need that assurance as well. We need to know that we are never beyond God’s love—regardless of what we’ve done or the mistakes we have made. God always calls us to repent and find new ways of living that are faithful.

In all our lives, may we acknowledge sin in the mistakes we make.

In all our lives, may we seek repentance by behaving differently when confronted with similar situations.

In all our lives, may we know that we are always held in God’s love.