II Corinthians 5:16-21
Rev. Susan Stull-Carr
“The Prodigal Father”
When I was a young woman, I attended a spirituality conference at Notre Dame. Inside the great Basilica was a statue carved in wood that told the moment in this story where the young man, stumbling home, found his father running out to meet him. The prodigal son has flung himself at the feet of his father. And his prodigal father reached down to envelop and embrace him with his open arms. I stood in front of the piece for a long time, caught up in this moment of reunion.
Something about the scene caught me where I was then living. At that moment of time, I was distanced emotionally and physically from my parents, family, and son. But also, even now; far too often, I experience the distance of time and space between me and others.
We have family reunions and class homecomings, but they have become for the most part, predictably staged moments in time. But when a real re-union happens, we know that grace has been at the center of all things. We have come home to each other. I think of friends who have separated from one another in their marriage, only to recognize somewhere along the way, what they really had and were able to re-unite with one another. I watched as my Grandma prayed and waited for her son, who had been emotionally destroyed by his service in Vietnam, come home and wait for him to finally return home. He never did as long as she was alive. I have known a man, waiting for a son with whom a relationship had been shattered by divorce, finally re-unite with his son over a meal. I’ve seen separation never overcome and I’ve seen reconciled relationships. Today is about reconciliation – one of my favorite words!
One of my favorite stories is of a father whose son had left home and was lost to him, placing an ad in a local newspaper. It said simply, “Pedro, I miss you so much. All is forgiven. Please come home. I will meet you in the square of San Juan at noon on Sunday, August 5th. That day, as the father came to the square, there were hundreds of Pedro’s lined up, hoping that the note had come from their father.
There is something in us that longs for restoration, that hopes beyond hope that reunion and reconciliation can happen in our lives, or in the lives of those we love. We know the shattering pain of separation.
We know the bones of the story. A boy demands his inheritance. Not some money, but half of his father’s wealth. Immediately this story would rub people the wrong way. In Jesus’ time, the tradition was that the elder always got everything. The youngest son had no rights. And in the middle east, yet today, people hearing this story tell how no father worth his salt would ever give in to a child who demanded such a gift. Indeed today, if your children came to you and demanded that you give them their inheritance before you had a chance to live off it, you would think them ingrates!
This is why Philip Yancey, author of “What’s So Amazing About Grace” says that this story might be better titled “The Prodigal Father.” There are actually two definitions that define prodigal. The first is ‘recklessly wasteful, a person given to luxury and extravagance. But it can also mean ‘profuse, a grand generosity.’ This story is about child, who squanders every good thing that the Parent has offered them freely. They thought only of themselves as they wastefully gave way to luxury and extravagance. But it is also a story about the goodness of a Parent, recklessly wasting a gift on a child that doesn’t deserve it. For it is a story about a profuse and grand generosity wastefully poured out on someone who didn’t deserve it, didn’t earn it. At first, these two meanings seem to be polar opposites, but in fact, they may be closely related. A Parent who is recklessly wasteful, incredibly generous, pouring out gift upon gift to those who will not take care of what they have received. And instead of turning that child away, when they finally ‘come to their senses’, welcoming them back into the fold, and celebrating with great joy.
Surely, as the elder son can see, such grace and mercy is reckless. This person hurt you. Stayed away, worrying you. Taking half of your inheritance and simply throwing it down the tube. We do better with a God who stands in judgment over such profligate ways. We are happier in some ways, if God sends these wastrels into exile, or better yet, if God would disown them completely.
This amazing story, this story of grace, stands as a powerful beacon of what God has done for the world in Jesus. Rather than judging the people and finding them wanting, God enters the world in human form and dwells with us, taking on all that we are, comprehending what it is to live in these bodies and in the midst of the broken spaces of this world. In one story, Luke shows the shepherd going out to look for the lost one. But here, the lost one, has to ‘wake up, to come to their senses and turn back towards home. I know that no matter how many times someone tries to make me look at my prodigal behavior, I often won’t, until something in me finally comes to my senses. Many people don’t even know yet that God is in love with them, madly, crazily, prodigally in love with them. All they can see is that they don’t measure up. Perhaps, they never knew a loving parent before they left home.
Paul says this to those that his is ministering to, Gentiles who never heard about a loving God, a God willing to suffer in order that they might have life. In their cultures, gods were always doing whatever they wanted, or using whoever they wanted to get their own needs met, or demanding a sacrifice before a blessing could come. But Paul says this, “So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time, we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone, a new life has begun!
And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave to us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors, God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come home. Come back to God.” For God made Christ, who never sinned, an offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” (II Corinthians 5)
There’s a celebration waiting folks. A reunion of all reunions where all things are reconciled once again to God, and all things have been made right with God. And Christ, Love’s gift, waits with the Loving Parents to welcome us home to ourselves and to each other. Amen.