Luke 15: 1-3 11-32
Then Jesus said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’
“So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.
“That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.
“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’
“But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here – given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.
“All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast – barbecued beef! – because he has him home safe and sound.’
“The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’
“His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours – but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”
The word ‘Prodigal’ doesn’t mean bad or wrong, it means wasteful and extravagant, without the need for economy. The young boy, seeing his life before him, decides, maybe foolishly, that he isn’t going to live forever; so why not spend, spend, spend? The reality being that he is going to live a lot longer than he thought; and that he will learn that life is not always about the good stuff. But, he has to find out the hard way; and they will be hard lessons that he will never forget. He takes the journey down as far as it will go, but sitting at the bottom of the barrel, he sees sense and heads back home.
And I believe that, deep down, he knows his father will be waiting; he isn’t going to be turned away; he won’t be living with the paid servants. Because he knows his father, far better than the older son.
He knows the heart of love that allowed him to go; the generosity that gave him his inheritance without condition; the grace that wished him well; the joyful love that will welcome him back.
He knew that love before he left. It was that love that actually gave him the confidence to go; the love that allowed him to make mistakes and so to learn from them. And then to remind him where he needed to be when there was nowhere else to go – because sometimes Home is not a place but a person.
The Gospel says to repent and believe the Good News. We can’t do that if we don’t even consider we could be wrong, if we refuse to see the sinner in ourselves.