Lectionary Reflection for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C
March 6, 2016
But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” Luke 15:29-30
Can’t you just hear the venom and indignation in the older son’s voice when he realizes his “scummy” younger sibling is getting something he’s not? It’s an issue of deserving, of paying your dues, earning your keep, and toeing the company (or in this case, family) line. This “plenty party” for the wayward son defies all good order; it’s just not the way things are done–at least in the eyes of the angry first born.
This is such a rich story with so many ways to approach it. It touches on grace, abounds in hope, and drips with love. It also serves as a powerful story about stewardship. Yes, stewardship. Jesus tells a tale that offers a fine comparison between living with an abundance mindset and nurturing a sense of scarcity. This is definitely a lesson for both individuals and congregations in how we view, use, and share what we have been given.
Ironically, both sons are operating out of a sense of scarcity. The younger son demands his share of his father’s inheritance. He doesn’t even wait for the patriarch to die. He wants what he wants, and he wants it now. There is no concept of waiting, savoring, appreciating, or being grateful. Sure enough, in short order he’s off to the big city, squandering his resources in “dissolute living” without a thought for tomorrow. When his resources are gone and hard times hit, he’s just a Jewish boy in a pig sty–a pretty sad state of affairs, indeed. His need to have it all, and have it when he wants it, leaves him with nothing but shattered dreams and the scarce dream of being a servant in his father’s house. This poor boy has been all over the map: from high expectations to no expectations, to meager expectations. The common thread that runs throughout is that his mindset is always scarcity. Even his father’s readily shared abundance is seen as something to fill his sense of scarcity.
The older son sees only what he does not have or get or deserve. He’s big on duty and obligation, and I get the sense that he hates his lot in life and finds precious little joy in the abundance he possesses. Instead, he can see only that his father has welcomed the undeserving sibling home to a party with a big fat calf when his father won’t even give him a skinny little old kid goat for a party. He who has everything sees only emptiness and want.
By contrast the father operates out of love and a sense of grateful abundance. He gives his sons what his younger son asks for, even though the request goes against tradition, is quite a slap in the father’s face, and is met with a stinging lack of gratitude. Even in giving so much away, the father does not lose hope; his eyes are always scanning the horizon, expecting the beloved wanderer to return. There is no judgment when the younger son does return, only love and even more abundance and rejoicing. To his angry first born, the father says “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” When one views life as a banquet meant to be shared, then the blessings never seem to cease.
I don’t know about you, but in my experience it is often those who have the least who approach life and stewardship from a mindset of abundance, while those who have been blessed with myriad gifts and resources are often the most miserly and miserable.
The lesson for us–both individually and corporately as the Body of Christ–is to hold loosely, love lavishly, and welcome everyone to the table. There is always room for one more, always reason to celebrate and have a party, and always, always enough in God’s economy. So go ahead, welcome sinners and eat with them, and don’t settle for a measly kid goat. Your father in heaven wants so much more for you.
“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” Augustine of Hippo
Psalm 32 and this week’s parable of the “Prodigal Son” provide wonderful backdrops and explanation for Augustine’s sentence. Consider some “Psalm art” in worship this week. Take a large, old, discarded picture frame, spray paint it gold (or another color that suits). Run black heavy twine or thread from top to bottom at even intervals (one half to one inch apart depending on the size of the frame; staple from behind). Give volunteers lengths or ribbon or fabric in various shades of purple and perhaps a few blue or white for variety. These strips should be long enough to weave through the black threads with a bit hanging on each end. Write a phrase from Psalm 32 on each ribbon or piece of fabric. Place them in order from beginning to end. Invite volunteers to read each phrase and then weave it into the frame beginning at the top of the frame. Depending on how you separate the phases, you will end up with 20-30 strips to be woven. Selah can be its own strip of a decidedly different color. Encourage slow, meditative reading. Use your sermon or another time in worship to talk about this psalm as a sort of “snapshot” or “image” of the faithful life built around the rhythms of grace, confession, teaching, and rejoicing. This psalm describes a way of life for the faithful. Be creative with this exercise and then display your work in the worship place for the remainder of Lent.
What does reconciliation look like? One powerful example of reconciliation practiced in our justice system is called “restorative justice.” Restorative justice is gaining traction in schools and with youth offenders. It seeks to bring the offender and the victim together with a mediator to do the hard work of finding a way forward. It can be extremely powerful, and it is proving much more effective than traditional punitive approaches. Here’s a good website to explore: http://restorativejustice.org/. Here’s a program in Philadelphia that’s working. Be sure to watch teh video: http://muralarts.org/programs/restorative-justice. Talk about restorative justice in light of the passage from 2 Corinthians. What does this mean for the Christian? How have we been the beneficiaries of restorative justice as followers of Jesus?
From Old to New!
For this illustration you’ll need to find something from your childhood that has experienced a “come back” as something new. It may be clothing item that has cycled back into fashion. You might take an old junk piece of furniture or an object that has been repurposed and “made new” as art or a functional item for the home. For me it would be vinyl records. When I think about the many wonderful vinyl records I had as a youth and how they’ve enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, it makes me wish I had continued to cart them around from move to move. Now I walk into my favorite coffee shop in Harrisburg and peruse the bins of vinyl from the past and new cuts from the present. Vinyl, once considered old and outmoded, is a new creation and way for artists to share their music, as well as a fresh way for a new generation to enjoy music from the past.
The passage in 2 Corinthians reminds us that we are made new creations in Christ. All about us that was old, dingy, sinful, and yucky has been cleaned up in baptism and made new. Now we get to sing a new song of Jesus and his love for this world. We have a God who delights in taking our trash and making of it treasure. That’s good news we can share. Finish with a short echo (have the children repeat each line) prayer:
Thank you for taking our trash
and turning it into treasure.
Thank you for taking our lives
and making us new creations.
Thank you for loving us always.
Help us to share your love with others.
Photos: Ted, Art Gallery ErgsArt (Durer’s Prodigal Son), and Way of Mercy Icons, Creative Commons. Thanks!