Last month my faith community offered a Parish Mission–three evenings of “retreat” preached by Rev. Pat Mowrer of Flagstaff, Arizona.
The theme of his talks centered on the parable of the Prodigal Son–a gospel I’ve read and heard treated in sermons so many times, The saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears,” comes to mind. These three evenings gob-smacked my spirit–it was one of those moments when one can see something so familiar as though for the first time.
Using Rembrandt’s stunning oil of the Prodigal Son, Fr. Patrick divided his talks over the three days by person: the youngest (wayward) son, the older (faithful) son and the Father. My goal is to focus my next three posts on each of these. But for today, let’s just look at the underlying message of each sermon:
Image: Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son
In case you’ve tucked the Luke’s account back in the recesses of your archives, let’s take a look at it.
Luke 15:11-32New International Version (NIV)
The Parable of the Lost Son
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
To prepare for the next few posts, I invite you to sit quietly with this gospel and adopt “beginner’s mind.” Read it as though you were there in the crowd when Jesus told the story for the first time.
In the next post, I’d like to share a few insights a la Father Pat…a new look at the wild child, the younger son. I’ll venture a guess most of us will be able to identify with him to a degree–and yet we are loved!