Lent 4C, 2007
Luke 15:1, 11-32

A Liturgy is also available


This week I sat down and calculated it has been 45 years since I left home.
And one heck of a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then!

The story of the so-called Prodigal Son has been called a ‘leaving home’ story.
‘Give me my inheritance now instead of when you drop dead.
Because I can’t wait that long.
I need to move on.
I need to leave home, now’.

Let me tell you another ‘leaving home’ Prodigal Son story...

He tells me he is leaving on Monday.
Today is Wednesday.
Not enough time to prepare my heart, to even let this sink in.

The reality that my son,
who is barely 16, is leaving home for parts unknown.
Well no, not totally unknown.
I know the kid he is heading off with
is a street-corner drug dealer.

I know the town they say they are going to
is a place where youth go.
A place where there are flophouses, drug parties, and lost children.

I picture him there,
getting high,
crashing on someone’s couch,
scrounging for bread in the morning.

We hold a family dinner, a farewell of sorts.
We gather in the kitchen,
his sisters,
his father,
a family friend.

His seven-year-old sister makes a farewell card.
There is a picture of her,
kneeling with her head in her hands,
black pencil tears streaming from her eyes.
I feel a rush of anger.

We baste the turkey,
make mashed potatoes (his favourite),
and set out the best china.
He shows up stoned.

We try to concentrate on saying what needs to be said
in this present moment.
There may not be another time,
so what is to be said must be said now.
We love you.
We will miss you.
The door will always be open.
We will be waiting for you to come home.
We will be praying, always praying.

I try to imagine what the next few months will be like.

I cannot say goodbye forever,
since I know my heart will not let me do that.
Whatever I tell myself about getting on with life,
I know I will be waiting.

Holding my breath every time the phone rings.
Listening for his steps upon the porch.


The Jesus Seminar voted the Prodigal Son parable, ‘pink’:
Jesus may have said something like this.

So I reckon it’s an important story.

The story of the so-called Prodigal Son... so-called because
it really is a story about three characters:
the father,
the elder son, and
the younger son,
is one of the best known of all the biblical stories.

We have heard it... maybe a zillion times!
But have we really heard it?  Really listened to it?
A younger son wants to leave home.
He insultingly asks his father for his share of what may become his inheritance.

Knowing there was no point in trying to hold on,
the father agrees, and shares out his livelihood to both sons.
The younger son leaves home and lives a life of extravagance.

You know his story.

You also know how the father,
always watching and waiting and loving,
sees his son coming home.

Ignoring the teachings of the Hebrew scriptures,
he runs out to meet him and protect him,
in case any member of the village should recognise him
as someone who has dishonored both his family and his village,
and attempt to kill him.

So the father welcomes the son back with an extravagant homecoming party.

Likewise, you know the story around the elder son.
When he arrives home he notices a party is in progress, and is told
it is for the younger son, who has also come home.

In true sibling rivalry he takes offence,
yells abuse about his father, and refuses to ‘go in’ to the party.
You also know how the father, lovingly, goes out to meet him.


How can we hear this story anew?  Let me offer a comment or two.

First, this is a story about a father who had two sons.
Indeed, not only had two sons but loved two sons,
went out to two sons, and was generous to two sons.

Second, the father does not reject either son, under any circumstance.
His love is given to both, not to one at the expense of the other.
Yet this same love does not resolve the conflict.
It accepts conflicts as the arena in which the work of love is to be done.

Third, there is a missing third act in this parable (Scott 2001).
The conflict between the brothers is left unresolved.
So a real question: what happens next?

New Testament scholar Brandon Scott is helpful, I reckon, with a suggestion:
“Soon the father will die.  Then what?  If the sons continue on with their established scripts, they are headed for a collision.  One will kill the other. Or they can follow the father’s script and surrender their male hono(u)r and keep on welcoming, accepting, and being with the other.  They have a choice between being lost or found, dead or alive”
  (Scott 2001:82-83).

In this parable the storyteller has Jesus offering a simple suggestion:
that re-imagined world, hoped-for world Jesus continually talks about,
co-operation, not contest, as the basis for the realm of God.

That one is loved not according to pre-set conditions.
It’s that simple.  But do we have ears to hear that?


Jesus told parables so that, as with any good story,
they could weave their way into the fabric of our lives in different ways.

Stories invite us to listen, to hear, and to draw our own conclusions.
But be careful.  Stories can also be dangerous.
Especially stories told by a certain Jesus of Nazareth.

He is leaving”.  Author unknown. From Whole people of God, Lent, 25 March 2001.
Scott, B. B. Reimagine the world. An introduction to the parables of Jesus. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2001.