4 Lent, March 31
The younger son in the parable of the Prodigal Son is profligate in this sense: he demanded his inheritance and then “gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living” (Luke 15:13). He was completely given up to dissipation and licentiousness; he was eating and drinking and making merry until the money ran out. Lonely, penniless, and hungry, he came to himself. Still, he knew, for a time, how to enjoy himself, how to throw the money around, how to posture as rich and magnanimous.
He would, of course, learn this hard lesson: “For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36 KJV). He is prodigal in his reckless capacity to squander and ruin his life. We recognize this person. We see this prodigal son in others, and we see him in ourselves. We go it alone and waste resources and time as if life is cheap and its duration endless. Sometimes we do better, sometimes we are disciplined and careful, sometimes we know the value of a dollar. Sometimes. Too often, however, we are this son. To use old language, we have sinned; we are sinners.
This desperate situation is well described by a line from the Collect for the Third Sunday of Lent: we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves. It is worth taking a moment to recall what it is like to feel helpless and hopeless, lost and wandering, not knowing what to do or where to turn. Everyone will know this soul-shaking sorrow and confusion at some time. Some people have known it for seasons, even years. But there is hope.
The father in the parable is prodigal also in this sense. As the son was returning home in desperation, the father saw him in the distance. While the son was still far away, “his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). The father said to his servants, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:22-24).
The father was profligate with his compassion, his embrace, his kisses, his calling for a robe and ring and sandals, his instruction to kill the fatted calf and make a feast. The father was doing everything and anything to celebrate a son who had been found alive.
The father was not counting the trespasses of his son (2 Cor. 5:19). Instead, by embracing his son and kissing him and calling for the finest garments and the best food, the father was creating a completely new situation. This father and this son meet as a new creation. “[E]verything old has passed away; see, everything has become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).
The abundant grace of Christ is in this story. Jesus is all compassion, an embrace of love, a kiss on the neck. He vests us with beauty and feeds us with his body and blood. He is open and shameless in his love. By such love, by such caring, by the kiss of peace, he breaks our stony hearts and gives us hearts of flesh in which his love may live and move and be.
Can we bear it, accept it, and fall silent before this love? Love does not wait. Love runs to us.
Look It Up
Read Psalm 32:1.
Think About It
Forgiveness is prodigious love.