I absolutely love this Gospel story as I think it provides us with an opportunity to ask ourselves some really tough and really good questions.
Most of you know….if I have any passion in life….it is a passion for really good questions.
The beauty of the Gospel…is that we can enter this story as any character. The Father, the Prodigal Son, the Brother, a servant, a party participant….it is rich in options and possibilities.
So here is one question: How did you enter the story? Who did you identify with?
Often when we think about eternal life, for a number of reasons we often go to the place of who is in and who is out!
After all, there is “God’s justice” right?
There must be something or someone who has to pay for the sins they have committed!
It only makes sense….it is the basis of our entire criminal justice system.
There is a law.
A law has been broken.
Who broke it?
What punishment meets the law that was broken?
What punishment needs to be imposed.
From parking tickets to 1st degree capital murder….
We have even developed a “sentencing grid” a cheat sheet if you will for crime committed and punishment imposed.
It is interesting that in the history of the Church….there was nearly the exact same thing for Priests hearing confessions….
The penitential books of the high middle ages…used for many, many years….they were a guide for priests in the confessional…
what sin was committed and what penance was given.
Isn’t that interesting?
So here is another question:
Has a harm imposed on an individual ever brought about true healing and restoration?
I can share this: History and modern research has proven that such a model does not work.
Fear and harm (imposed penance or imposed sentence) may keep us from breaking a law, but it alone will never get to the root of why the law was broken, or what the person was thinking or not thinking when the law was broken.
Remember the lines from the movie: Shawshank redemption—where Morgan Freeman sits in front of the Lifer Parole board and they ask….
Do you feel you’ve been rehabilitated?
Red : Rehabilitated? Well, now let me see. You know, I don’t have any idea what that means.
1967 Parole Hearings Man : Well, it means that you’re ready to rejoin society…
Red : I know what you think it means, sonny. To me, it’s just a made up word. A politician’s word, so young fellas like yourself can wear a suit and a tie, and have a job. What do you really want to know? Am I sorry for what I did?
1967 Parole Hearings Man : Well, are you?
Red : There’s not a day goes by I don’t feel regret. Not because I’m in here, because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try to talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone, and this old man is all that’s left. I got to live with that. Rehabilitated? It’s just a bullshit word.
You see my friends….i believe that one of the truths that the Gospel story today relates to us, is that the God in whom we believe, is modeled in the behavior and attitudes of the Father in this story.
The father did not stand on the front porch of the house, arms folded and towering over his repentant child…
he saw him coming…
he was looking, longing for his return…
and when he caught sight….he ran…not just walked…
ran to embrace him.
God runs to embrace us…
I would venture to guess that most of us hope to be, or long to be the prodigal one….
the one who spends our season of lent, or maybe our whole lives trying to come back to our God, rehearsing our lines about how we have failed in this or that area of our lives…
rehearsing our lines over and over to get it right.
Yet I want to let you in on a little insight….
God doesn’t care about our little speech. God cares about our heart.
God is just happy we are back…and runs out to meet us…ignores our little speech and throws his arms around us gives us a kiss and says…welcome home…
We like that don’t we…we like that image of a God who embraces us inspite of our own shortcomings, sins and failures.
And yet…..yet…for some reason…we often regret, envy or despise the fact that God does the very same to others whom we judge as not worthy of that embrace.
You see, I understand the faithful brother…I understand how easily it can seem unfair, unjust and just not right…
So here is another question:
Should heaven be for everyone?
I have a list in my own brain of people whom I feel,
from my own woundedness,
people who I am most certain will never enjoy the heavenly banquet.
I would venture to say that most all of us have that same list….just not the same folks on the list.
So here is another question: Why are some welcomed and others not?
The great Swiss psychologist Alice Miller suggests that the primary task of the second half of life is grieving.
Greiving the fact that yes indeed life is unfair…it is.
She suggests…Acknowledge it, grieve it, and let go of it, and enter the dance…or we will be bound to a life of misery, bitterness and anger.
Remember what the father told the faithful son: My child you are with me always and everything I have is yours. But we have to celebrate and rejoice!
So here is the final question of the night:
Are we dancing, or are we sitting in the corner pouting, waiting for God to come and beg us to?