Yielding Abundantly – Lent 4C – Lk. 15:1-3, 11b-32
St. Mark’s – 3/6/16 – Lorraine Ljunggren
The late Thomas Merton is well known in many religious circles. Merton taught college English, became a Trappist monk – a Roman Catholic religious men’s order, and was a prolific writer, particularly about issues of peace and about the spiritual life.
Merton once wrote, “As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a Body of broken bones.” (quoted by Bp. Porter Taylor, 3/1/16)
“As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a Body of broken bones.”
So, the love that unites us brings us suffering; but the same love resets the brokenness that comes from our contact with one another. That’s something to think about!
Bishop Porter Taylor, of the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina, in response to Merton’s writing, likens God to a Divine Chiropractor, saying we are out of line with each other. This is a rather astute metaphor for God and a fairly right-on observation about us humans.
In today’s portion from Luke’s Gospel we engage a story about some family members who are or become out of line with each other.
We might want to realize first the presenting question is table fellowship. Jesus is known to eat dinner Pharisees and scribes. But they are not the only ones accustomed to dining with Jesus. In the present case the Pharisees and scribes
happen to be grumbling about the company Jesus keeps on those other occasions – that is, eating with tax collectors and sinners. What may also help us in reflecting on today’s reading is knowing there are two other parables Jesus tells directly before today’s. The first is about one lost sheep out of one hundred sheep and another about one lost coin out of ten coins. And, yes, both the lost sheep and the lost coin are found.
It is then Jesus launches into the parable, that is, the story of two sons and their father.
Now, in ancient Israel, fathers love their sons, whether the first born or the last born. So, we begin hearing the story expecting that the father loves his sons.
Is it the case that it is love which prompts the father to defy convention in giving the younger son what would be his inheritance upon his father’s death? A pretty generous, if not, perhaps, in this case unwise, decision.
But, then again, maybe – just maybe the father knows his younger son better than we do. Surely the father realizes that to grant the younger son such boundless freedom could turn out well or not so well. The father must surely know it will be a learning experience beyond what the young man realizes. And, perhaps the father is like so many of us when we face difficult decisions; he hopes, in his heart of hearts, that things will turn out well.
The text tells us the younger son decides to head out into a world which he may not realize isn’t all sweetness and light. It’s easy to see he ends up losing his moral compass. Whenever we human beings lose our moral compass, we are immediately out of alignment with one another.
The younger son’s decisions about money and relationships are reckless and end up exhausting his resources. And, by that we get that he exhausts more than his financial resources; he also exhausts his understanding of who he is and who God creates him to be.
Writer Henry Nouwen once said, “The farther I run away from the place God dwells, the less I am able to hear the voice that calls me the Beloved, and the less I hear that voice, the more entangled I become in the manipulations and power games of the world.” (citation lost)
The younger son stands in need of a Divine Chiropractor. But, then again, so do we.
It takes running out of money and ending up ankle deep in mud and the pods fed to pigs to bring the younger son to his senses. The English translation says, “But when [the younger son] came to himself…” It doesn’t say he repents. Different words that make a difference. It’s like a light bulb going on in his head. If he goes home and his father hires him, he’ll be better off than he is now.
The son does form a confession in his mind: “I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son….” (Lk. 15:18-19a) As he heads home we hope he’s sincere because if he is, it signals a change of heart and not just a desperate hunger in his belly.
The way Jesus tells the story, upon seeing the son in the distance the father races out to the son, showers him with a deeply compassionate embrace and kisses him. That is when the son makes his confession!
We’re glad he does even though his father races to ‘reset the Body of broken bones’ – the father races to realign their relationship. The lost is found. The dead is alive. We – we are amazed and delighted and astonished, all at the same time!
Jesus, as storyteller, is always interested in making sure listeners understand well who God is and how God works in the world. We aren’t surprised when here comes another twist, another turn in the story.
There is the other son, older brother. Tows the line. Does what he’s supposed to do. Works as hard as he can without asking for any great or early reward, not even a party! We can wonder if the anger has been steaming within ever since the younger brother took off for parts unknown. The anger certainly boils up now upon hearing the younger brother is home again. And, what?! There’s the music and dancing and, you must be kidding, even a fatted calf?! That’s the last straw!
We’re back to a Body of broken bones in need of a Divine Chiropractor. We recognize a heart that feels so painful the only way to cope with it is to cover it with anger. We’ve likely been there ourselves.
Once again, the father in the story reaches into the deep well of love he has for his older son and attempts to reset the Body of broken bones.
Jesus leaves us hanging with the father’s words, “Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” (Lk. 15:32) (silence)
Jesus leaves us wanting more. We would like to know if the older son realizes how much he is valued. We would like to know the father and son embrace. Jesus leaves us wondering. What on earth would we do?
Interestingly enough, this parable is often called the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Once we become familiar with the story, we are tempted to think of the word ‘prodigal’ only in the sense of the younger son’s wasteful, reckless, spendthrift, and immoral behavior.
But, guess what?! ‘Prodigal’ also means bounteous. It can mean yielding abundantly! It means profuse, riotous as in a field filled with flowers! It’s like a great body of water filled with fish, teeming with life!
Might Jesus want us to focus on the bounteous, abundant, profuse, riotous love of the father for his sons? Might Jesus want us to see in the parable the possibility of reconciliation, so freely offered, that the very air seems to teem with life? Might Jesus want us to understand the love we share with God and with one another does have the potential to reset the Body of broken bones in our lives?
The story is a reality check of sorts. Not just for the Pharisee and scribes, but for us.
In a letter he wrote Thomas Merton said, “In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.” (Thomas Merton’s Struggle with Peacemaking, p. 52.)
My friends, the source of our relationships can be found in the love of Jesus Christ. That is the love we find saves everything! Amen.