The Prodigal Son

4th Sunday of Lent
Gospel of St. Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the most well-known parables of Jesus, and not just in Christian circles. There are numerous cultural examples of this parable being re-told throughout history and in many different cultural mediums. Charles Dickens’ novel, Great Expectations, the popular movie Legends of the Fall, starring Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins, and even the comic book heroes turned movie franchises, Iron Man and Bat Man, all capitalize on the theme of a rebellious child leaving home and reaping the consequences of the sins of pride and selfishness, then returning home in hopes of forgiveness and redemption. These are only a few examples of the continuous cultural relevance and meaning found in the themes presented in this parable.

As parents we read this parable seeking comfort and hope anticipating the return of our own prodigal children. As children, we find the constant and never wavering love of the Father to be a beacon calling us back home, trusting that we too will be forgiven and restored, in spite of our fall. As the faithful, we quietly examine ourselves in the example of the elder son hoping that we have not exchanged our relationship with the Father for orthodoxy and religiosity. And, as fellow pilgrims on this journey, we come together in solidarity knowing that we are not alone, nor are we unique, because we all have found ourselves playing the roles of rebellion and self-righteous indignation in this continuing story of total dependence upon the love and the inexhaustible mercy of God.

Today’s Gospel, the parable of the Prodigal Son, speaks to all of us regardless of our vocation, title, or position.

I confess to you today my sisters and brothers in Christ, that I am struggling. Struggling to resist the discouragement associated with disappointment. The disappointment that comes from failing expectations. Expectations, either rightly or wrongly, that influence my thoughts and govern my behavior. Thoughts and behaviors that neither reflect the man that I am seeking to be nor reflect my hope in others in becoming what I hope they should be.

Am I alone in my discouragement? I am not. And neither are you.

We must push on. We must never cease in becoming what God wishes us to be; his children in perfect and holy communion with him. Today’s Gospel is a parable of hope. Hope that regardless of how low we have fallen, or how far we have fled, or how cold our hearts have become that redemption and restoration are ever present and available to those who are willing to receive it.

May our disappointment be replaced with resolve. May our failures result in opportunity. May our expectations be rooted in love, and may our actions be expressed in mercy and kindness.  May our sin bring us to the cross of Jesus, and may our orthodoxy never replace our relationship.

This 4th Sunday of Lent, as we peer ahead to the joy and celebration of Easter, let us find encouragement in the words of the father in the parable, “we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”

“What, then, will this child be?”

Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist

“What, then, will this child be?”  Mark records the very question that every parent has asked since the dawn of time.  The question, “How will my kid turn out?” has the ability to cause feelings of wonder and hope or shock and dismay.  If it were possible to add up the total number of hours of sleep lost as a result of pondering this question, we as parents, would be both impressed and frightened.  As we read the recorded words of John the Baptist’s relatives we may take some small comfort in knowing that the mystery, wonder, and worry associated with parenting transcends race, culture, and time.

There is no such thing as “winning” at parenting.  You cannot win at being a parent.  There are no prizes.  There are no trophies.  There are no ribbons.  There are no participation medals.  In spite of what you may think, read, or have been told your children’s successes, or failures, are completely and entirely their sole responsibility.

I recognize that may sound a little harsh.  In fact, when I shared this viewpoint with a group of dads earlier this week most of them, initially balked at its bluntness.  As parents we like to think that we what we do matters…and though it does, it does so in a way that has more to do with our ability to parent rather than our children’s ability to be successful.

Many years ago, as I was eagerly anticipating the birth of my first child, a co-worker pulled me aside and told me in a very crude and direct manner what to expect at the birth. He said, “Of all the things you get when your baby is born there are two things they don’t give you; 1) an owner’s manual, and 2) a receipt.”  In his unique and brusque manner he gave me the best parenting advice ever; a reminder that children don’t come with instructions and they can’t be returned.

Proverbs 22:6 states, “train the young in the way they should go; even when old they will not swerve from it.”  As a parent I hold tightly to that proverb.  It brings me comfort and hope and I pass that proverb on to you in the hope that you too will find comfort and hope in the promise of God.  However, even in this proverb we find the reality that as parents we do our best in the hope that our best is good enough.

Believe it or not my hope today is to encourage you.  I wish to encourage you as parents, both current and future, by reminding you of your sacred duty to raise your children in love and with hope.  As today’s Gospel reminds us, the birth of a child is a wellspring of hope.  As the relatives and neighbors of John the Baptist exclaimed, “What, then, will this child be?” so too we find hope and promise in our children, not only in their birth but also as they grow and develop.

The supreme example of parenting is, of course, God the Father.  As reveled to us in his Word, in his creation, and in his Son, Jesus Christ, we know that God the Father is love and his mercy is the source of our hope.  As parents we should strive in all that we do and say to emulate God’s love for our children.  Through and with love, we communicate hope, and through that hope we provide encouragement as we inspire, motivate, and disciple our children.

Parenting out of love requires us too consciously, and with effort, to remove fear from our words and actions.  Fear seeks validation through success and when success is not achieved the fruits produced are feelings of rejection and unworthiness.  Fear communicates to our children that their worthiness is conditional, based on outcomes and performance, and denies our children the opportunity to experience the joy and stability produced from love without conditions.

Parents are charged with communicating God’s love to their children, for, ultimately, they are his.  We communicate love in everything we do; when we hold and squeeze our babies, when we establish and enforce boundaries for our teenagers, when we allow natural consequences, both positive and negative, to run their course, and when we provide instruction, advice, and encouragement.  In all these things, and many more, we must communicate love.

God, in his infinite wisdom and by his immeasurable love, created us, humankind, with the ability to choose. The ability to choose to accept or reject him.  It is with that example of God’s love, through which we have been called, by which we must parent.  Exposing our children to choice, exposes them to risk.  As parents we manage risk, the best we can, by managing choice.  We communicate love to our children when we allow and provide opportunities for appropriate risk, and when combined with our acceptance that failure and success are equally viable outcomes, we allow hope, an unfathomable wellspring, to encourage, inspire, and heal our children.

Today’s Gospel is a message of hope.  Hope in God and his promise to save all of humankind through the salvation made available to us through his son, Jesus Christ.  I ask you this day, as you come to the altar of God, to ask for his mercy and grace, through which all fear is vanquished, so that we, the family of God, may parent, in all its facets and forms, with the unconditional love of God.  A love that in turn brings hope…hope to all, each and every one of us.