Benedictine University and MySpiritualAdvisor.com’s Mark Kurowski reflects on a new meaning of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, or is it? Who is forgiven? Where is the scandal in this story. Listen to this podcast of his reflection for the 3rd Sunday of Lent to find out. Please read Luke 15:1-3, 11-32. For Audio, “Read More” below. #GreatCatholicPreaching #Catholic #BenU1887
For Benedictine University and MySpiritualAdvisor.com, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 3/10/2013The 4th Sunday of Lent.
Please pause this audio and read Luke 15:1-3 and 11-32.
Have you ever just wanted to write “S-T-U-P-I-D” on your forehead after you did something really dumb? I did as early as last week. Of course, it didn’t occur to me that I had done something really dumb when I did it. It was only after what I had done had been published to over one hundred people in a newsletter for which I wrote something.
It was only when, eleven years later, the newsletter itself showed up in a file which happened to fall open that as I read the article again it read “fresh”, that I had this cold chill run down my spine. Along with it was this cold sweat that ran across my whole body. “Oh, no!” I thought, “What have I done!” Then comes the immediate thought, “What am I going to do now!” That was eleven years ago, what could I do? The only thing I could do is feel the pang of regret at what I had written.
When I read what we call, The Parable of the Prodigal Son, this is the same feeling that I think that the younger son had as he sat in that pig sty penniless, friendless in a foreign land, having alienated his whole family. Empty, lonely and having forgotten who he was, the young son sits in the filth and stench among pigs. The scripture says, “when he came to himself…”
I remember when I was fourteen, I had a series of dreams after my grandfather died. In those dreams, my grandfather came from heaven to take me by the hand and tell me, a marginal church goer at best, that Jesus Christ was real and God was real. More than that, my grandfather told me he had important things for me to do with my life.
So, on a Thursday in November in the early 1980s, I sat behind the altar in a choir at a United Methodist Church and had what they called a “conversion experience.” As I sat there, I realized that even my sins were forgiven on the Cross. I was off and running.
I thought that to truly be saved, everyone had to have a conversion experience “to be saved.” I needed to have this, right, because everyone was like the Prodigal Son, right?
Everyone had rejected their Father like the Prodigal Son by asking for his father’s earthly possessions like he was already dead, I assumed. Everyone had arrogantly snubbed the rabbinic laws by converting their Father’s possessions into cash so that they could get rid of it in dissolute living, I assumed. Everyone rejected the faith of their families so completely like this young Jewish boy who went and not only lived among Gentiles, but fed their pigs! Not only was this Jewish boy going to feed the pigs, he even contemplated eating with them! What an utterly complete rejection of the law which commanded that no Jew should come near swine and Gentiles!
Yet, that is what the young man does in the story. My whole belief was that everyone had to have this kind of epiphany, that we are all sinful and have fallen short of the glory of God. Everyone was just like the Prodigal Son.
But, I was wrong. There were two women in my life that changed my understanding that one must have a climactic conversion experience to be forgiven of their sins and walk with Christ.
The first was a woman I did not know and do not know today. We both were at a Christian Singles gathering in South Bend before I met Sandi. As I was spouting off about how people needed to have a conversion experience, this unknown woman sat patiently. When I was done, she said simply, “Then I am not one of God’s children even though there has never been a time that I have not loved the Lord or tried to serve him always? I have never had a conversion experience. My father is a pastor and I have never known a time that Jesus was not the Lord of my life.”
The other woman was my wife, a woman who has changed a lot of things I used to do. Sandi has never known a time when Jesus Christ was not central to her life. I think we could count on one hand the number of times she has missed an opportunity to worship on Sundays.
Nonetheless, the point that I am making is that there has never been a time that Sandi has not been faithful. The Parable has someone like Sandi and the other young woman I spoke of earlier. That person is the older son.
He has always been there. He has always tried to be faithful. Where was the younger son when he was doing that? The older son has a natural reaction to the party being given for the younger son. He is miffed. And this is a natural reaction for someone who has hung in there all along. Sometimes we run into this in the church.
Over the years, we have liked to pit the younger son against the older son in terms of who is being faithful and who isn’t in this story. But this misses the point of the whole parable. This parable says nothing about the goodness of either of these sons. The first one treats his family and religion with contempt and then has the gall to come back when he has denigrated everything and needs a handout.
The other son is equally as bad. He cannot rejoice that his brother has come to his senses and returned. He can only be prideful and jealous that there is a party being held for his once lost brother. They are both to be pitied.
What is significant here is the way that the father reacts. The father in the story waits for the son who is disobedient on the one hand. On the other hand, the father goes out and gets the faithful son when he is hurt and jealous. In both cases, the father’s response is forgiveness. He restores the one younger son publically. He puts the family robe, ring and sandals back on him in public. He goes out in private to the older son and says, “You have always had the riches and understood how to use them. That is your blessing. Your blessing is that you have always had a relationship with me and enjoyed my blessings.”
The Father in heaven is the same way. The Father in heaven has mercy on those who reject him and throw away his blessing. He awaits their return. But he has a special place and goes after those who have been faithful. This parable says in essence, “We all sin and fall short of the glory of God, but God acts in such a way that deserves our glory.”
This parable is about how God forgives the sins of those who are totally lost and the sins of those who have been faithful for so long. Both, the lost who are found and those who have never left are needed to make up the family of God. We are all his children and we are all forgiven. No matter how much we younger sons want to call the older sons “hypocrites”, or the older sons want to call the younger sons “sponges who suck off the system”, the fact is that we all must repent. When we do, the Father in heaven has beat us to the punch.
Just like in the story, the Father comes running up to us like we were younger sons before we could ask for forgiveness and kisses us. He goes out to gather us like older sons when we are blinded by our own jealousy and small mindedness.
The scandal of this whole story is not that Jesus is telling the Jews that they are not forgiven. The scandal is that Jesus is telling the Jews that they ARE forgiven for their jealousy and envy of HIM. Not only that, the scandal is he is telling them, not only does God forgive them, but forgiveness is not just for them. Forgiveness, Jesus asserts, is for all people. Forgiveness is for the young sons and the older ones. There is no sibling rivalry for who is more sinful and who is more forgiven. All are forgiven.
So, today, my friends, rejoice, for the grace of God is for all people, the Jew first and then the Gentile. Male, female, slave or free, long time church member or newcomer, all receive forgiveness when they repent. So, let us all join the party and celebrate that all of us are forgiven. Amen? Amen.
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