Who do we find ourselves to be the Parable of the Prodigal Son told in the Gospel of St. Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32? Are we the prodigal, the father, the citizens of the country, the brother, the slave, or perhaps the pigs? Maybe we find ourselves to be none of these characters and wonder why it is we must hear this story again and again. After all, it is read every third year on the 4th Sunday of Lent and constantly in every Sunday School classroom on earth. The Eastern traditions uses the passage every single year leading up to Lent! There is a reason for this, the story speaks to everyone, if we will have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying.
Typically when we hear this parable of Christ we are beckoned by the homilist to find ourselves in the person of the Prodigal Son and this is undoubtedly true. We have each been the person who has decided to do things on their own accord, went off in our own direction, wasted our times and resources to only then realize the mistake we have made. We have presumed to know best when others have tried to tell us otherwise. Then, and only then, have we each made the humbling journey of return to where we should have never departed from. This is life, this is reality. It is apart of learning and growing, becoming our true selves. Did we not all learn the affects of fire or heat sources by burning ourselves, at some point in life, even when a parent tried to warn us. Have we not all been guilty of thinking our elders were silly or 'not cool' when they warned us of a certain behavior, to only afterward see their wisdom? We each have been the Prodigal Person, in differing degrees perhaps, but each of us have made mistakes on the journey of life. If you have not made a mistake you must still be in your mother's womb, otherwise you are only fooling yourself!
So we know how the typical teaching continues: it is never to late to return, to repent, and to be received by the heavenly parent who is God. This is so very true and thanks be to God for continually showering down upon her people unending mercy, love and forgiveness which knows no end. God rejoices each time one of us corrects our path in life and return a place of safety. He is the Lord of the Dance each time one of us becomes honest with ourselves and how he made us. God throws a party when we take refuge in the Divine Love rather than in our own presumptuous self-made securities which often fail when a famine or turn of events occur. Yes, you and I have been and will again be the Prodigal during our lives. The question is will we grow or will be lay down in the mud of life and miss the feast which awaits us?
However, today I want us to take a look at a few of the other characters and consider the possibility of finding ourselves within them and how that could affect us as people of faith. First, the citizens of the country, the owners of the pigs. Who are these people, the parable tells us quite a bit about them within just a few verses. We know they obviously own much of the land in which the Prodigal has landed, they are controllers of the local wealth, and pay tragically low wages. I believe it is safe to imagine that when the Prodigal came looking for work the citizens of the country could quickly tell he was not in good condition and desperately needed employment and help. However, it appears from reading on further that his wages were so incredibly dismal that he was still starving and began to consider eating the pigs food. Yes, the Prodigal was ready to steal from his own employer due to the fact he was hungry and his wages did not cover that need. Have we ever been guilty of giving such measly wages that our employees still go hungry and without the bare necessities in life. Or do we allow others to do so and remain silent in the midst of such atrocities. No doubt, the citizens of the country presumed themselves to have been wise business men who had legitimately created their wealth and therefore they had no need to worry about a fool who had taken a different path in life. Do we not hear such similar statements in out communities today when people cry out for a more equal distribution of wealth and wages to all people? Do we stand by witnessing, or worse yet ourselves hire people to only pay them the least amount possible to the point they consider stealing or breaking laws to survive. As a people of faith we are emphatically called not to be the citizens of the country -- employers who disregard the humanity of their employees. Rather we must look for the Prodigals and see to it they have what they need no matter the mistakes they have made. We are each products of our surrounding and each make mistakes, it is not ours to judge who is worthy but rather give, as able, when a need is made known in our presence.
Are we the pigs? What, you say! Pigs! Yes, are we ever the pigs in our own lives? Are we ever guilty of becoming mindless consumers which are oblivious to the need of others right in front of us? The actual pigs in the parable had a good excuse: they were animals without critical thought. You and I do not have this excuse and yet every day millions of humans, made in the image of God, treat others as if they do not exist because of pure selfishness. We live in a culture where we have become so obsessed with keeping up appearances and unrealistic standards of living that our wallets are closed to the poor and needy. We quite literally become as pigs with our heads buried so deeply in desire and material lust that we miss the person starving before us. God calls us to open our eyes, lift up our heads, and go on a 'diet' so that someone else might not fear for their next meal or a roof over their head on a cold night. May we strive to not be the pigs!
Could it be that we are the slave in the parable? The type of individual who simply does what others ask, never offering our own opinions on the matter at hand. It seems that many of us, myself included, fear a whip will come down on us if we speak up on injustices we see in life. When the brother came to the slave and asked what was occurring the slave only responded using the perspective of the father and then when the brother objected he said nothing further. Each of us in life has opportunities where we can become an advocate for another but those opportunities are often difficult and un-liked by others around us. We must each decide if we will be drones, only repeating the words and concepts of others, or will we become proclaimers of truth and freedom. It is risky to be go against the will of others, especially those who are more influential, educated or wealthier than ourselves but this is exactly what God asks of us. This is what Christ modeled for us during his earthly course, he continually dared to speak up and break the status quo for the benefit and inclusion of others. Will we be bold as Christ or silent as a slave not taking responsibility for the situations before us?
On to the brother -- and yes, no question, we have all been the brother. We have each judged our neighbor and presumed them guilty. We have mistakenly found ourselves to be greater than others and forgotten that we are called to love unconditionally as does God. How many times do we allow the grace of God reflected in us to become a device of pride and ridicule to others. We must remember when we do not fail or take the wrong path it is only by the mercy of God and help of others. Never should we use that God-given success as a means to withhold love from the one who has taken a wrong turn. Also, we must remember that we rarely, if ever, know all the circumstances of anyone's life or the events that has led them to where they are. When we accept this reality we lose the ability to judge them or feel they are unworthy of our full acceptance and love. God calls us to be inclusive of all, without asking questions, knowing that by love and care -- not hatred and judgment -- each will find their path to completeness and true holiness. Let us be a shoulder to cry on, not a vessel of wrathful words.
At last we come to the character of the father. The father represents God and all those who choose to be icons of the Holy One. People who will accept anyone who comes to them in need and rejoice over their appearance. Not rejoicing half-heartedly or begrudgingly but shouting with joy! God is calling the Church to be as the Father we see in the Parable of the Prodigal Son: She is to open her doors to all and embrace them without fear -- no matter their appearance, mistakes or life journey. God calls us to robe each human being with a robe of dignity and honor, placing a ring on their finger, and communing all freely from our sacred table. Do we heed this call? Do we look for the Prodigals while they are yet far off or do we miss them when they are in front of us weeping in pain? Do we run seeking the hurting or do we pass by those that do not fit our requirements for 'people of God.' Every person we see is a child of God and destined to be in communion with the Divine, embrace by God's arms which are truly ours. Embrace a Prodigal today!
Who are you, who am I, who is the Christian church today in this Parable? May we pray to God that by his grace we all become as the Father and rejoice over all people welcoming them fully into our faith communities.
Image courtesy of Rev. Lori Johnson, www.twitter.com/loribythesea