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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

742 Reunion finds the lost and brings them home.

Day 742: Monday, March 28, 2022

Reunion finds the lost and brings them home.

If you had to pick one reading that summarized Jesus’ teachings, today’s gospel reading might be a great one to pick. It’s the story of the “prodigal son” and is one of his most famous stories.

Because most of us have heard this story so often and we can’t help but read it from a North American context, it may be important to review some of the key elements of the story in their original context.

In Jesus’ time, two of the most important values were HONOR and FAMILY. What the young son does to his dad in the parable is pretty much unthinkable and might have caused an audible gasp when his audience heard it. For the young son to leave home was a big insult. For the young son to ask for his inheritance BEFORE his dad was dead…well, it just didn’t get much worse than that. And no doubt word spread like wildfire in the village. The father’s reputation was ruined. The family name was mud.

The story would end so much differently if the son came home 5 years later driving a Porsche as a successful CEO – returning to take care of his mom and dad. But the son has blown his money feeding his addictions in a foreign land. Yet ANOTHER insult. And when the party’s over and he’s hungry and destitute, the son decides to return home – not because he’s sorry so much as he’s got nowhere else to go.

It’s likely that the father got word of the son’s return by another villager. By religious custom, the other villagers had a right to approach the son and effectively “banish” him from the village because of what he’s done. The father gets up and runs to his son before anyone can do this.

Two things here. First, fathers NEVER run in public. Children run.

Secondly, the father is saving his son from being humiliated after the father has been humiliated many times over. And then to top it all off, the dad puts a ring on his son’s finger, gives him a cloak and has a feast in his honor. In essence, he restores the son’s place in the family as if nothing happened. Is this father out of his right mind?

If this drama were not enough, then there’s the whole drama with the eldest son who comes in from the field, hears of the party thrown for his brother’s return and refuses to enter. He then berates the father for a poor decision (remember the values of honor and family…) and gets stuck in his own righteousness. The father is still left with no family unity. And the story ends there with no resolution.

What are we to make of all this?

We need to pay attention to the difference between an allegory and a parable. An allegory would suggest that the father is God, the younger son represents sinners and the older son represents the Pharisees. This interpretation holds up pretty well and teaches us something – wherever we place ourselves in the story. But we’re told it’s a parable, and parables are not so easily resolved.

Jesus is trying to make a point by telling this story, and the story is told because the priests are upset because Jesus is hanging out with sinners and unclean folk.

The bottom line of this parable, according to Barbara Brown Taylor is that working for peace and reconciliation “always involves a profound crisis of identity. You can’t have peace and stay exactly who you are or even who you want to be. Sometimes you have to make huge concessions, sacrificing things as concrete as fields that have been in the family forever, along with things as intangible as honor, greatness, rightness, and self-respect.

Sometimes you have to run to protect your kin, even those who have done you irreparable harm. It’s all a matter of priorities, and for this father, reunion is all that matters.

Reunion finds the lost and brings them home.

Reunion brings the dead back to life.

We can’t stay who we are (or where we are) if we’re going to make relationships right – and each character in the story learns about this in different ways. So many of us are always asking the “other” to change their ways or to come towards us. But Jesus knows that EVERYONE has to change and sacrifice something.

And maybe even more importantly, those with the greatest power have the greatest responsibility in the reconciliation. Thus we see the father, not the sons, going to the extreme to heal things.

This could be why the priests were all miffed here!

We as a culture love reconciliation stories. The movie industry knows this, and I think down deep we all want to see what was once united re-united. Yet it requires hard work – soul work.

Today’s story is a profound one – especially when we think of what it meant for the father to do what he did in that context. We’re called to do the same – as the parent or the brothers in this story – to be willing to make concessions and sacrifices for healing to take place.

- Mike Boucher

The Parable of the Lost Son from Luke:

The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So to them he addressed this parable.

Then he said, “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.

When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any.

Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’

So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’

But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began.

Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.

But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.

But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”

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