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.’”

A few years past my youngest son, who was in high school at the time, wanted to get a dog

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Gospel of St. Mark 7:27-35

A few years past my youngest son, who was in high school at the time, wanted to get a dog. We had put down the dog of his childhood the previous winter and he wanted a new one. I was opposed to this idea, of course, considering that in a few years he would be away at college and I would be stuck with a dog.

My position wasn’t helped by the fact that the day he asked also was the day that we had spent volunteering at a fund-raising event for a local animal shelter. Nor was my position helped by the fact he had also spoken to his mother. So it was no surprise that we soon found ourselves standing in front of a dozen or so cages of the most pitiful dogs on the planet. Each of them with their own unique “take me home” puppy-dog eyes and vigorously wagging tails pulling at heart strings and clouding rational thought. You already know how this story ends, but I will continue.

My preference was the oldest dog we could find. One who looked at me with the same disdain and apathy with which I view it. My son wanted a puppy. We compromised and came home with a 2-year-old Australian Cattle dog named Honey.

Honey and I didn’t exactly hit it off. Australian Cattle Dogs are a very intelligent breed and Honey, true to her nature, is very intelligent. She is not, however, smarter than me but she thinks she is, and that of course is the source of animosity between us. For example, I will tell Honey to stop doing something, like chasing the cat, chewing the carpet, or barking at nothing, which will then cause her to give me a satirical squinty-eyed stare. I really don’t like that stare.

Fast-forward to present day: my son, now enjoying his second year at college, and me– stuck with a too-smart-for-her-own-good, beady-eyed Australian Cattle Dog with a long healthy life ahead of her.

Now don’t get me wrong, Honey is really a pretty good dog. She is obedient, intuitive, and has a natural instinct to please. However, there is one thing that absolutely drives me crazy about his dog: she doesn’t do well with distractions. Whether it be the squirrels running across the high wire or chattering from the trees, the mailman, the UPS driver, the neighbor kids on their bicycles, a friend coming to visit, or, and most especially, other dogs, Honey loses her mind. She forgets what she is supposed to be doing and does the exact opposite. My wife says it best when talking about the dog, “Honey would be a really great dog, except for the fact she can’t deal with distraction.”

In today’s Gospel of Mark Jesus confronts Peter’s ability to deal with distractions.

According to Mark’s Gospel Jesus concludes his mission to the outlying Gentile districts and begins his journey to Jerusalem. It is at this time he gives his disciples their first insight into what to expect when they get there. As the Gospel writer points out, Peter, who had previously professed his faith in Jesus as the Christ, now takes Jesus aside and “rebukes” him.

Peter, I believe, had allowed himself to get caught up in the fame and the popularity of the movement and fully expected that Jesus was now finally going to Jerusalem to establish his prophesied earthly kingdom. From there he would take his seat upon the throne and all the world would be under his rule. Peter’s expectations were a product of his understanding, and his understanding had been confused with his human desires, and it was this confusion that became the source of Peter’s distraction. And subsequently the cause for Jesus’s response to Peter.

Jesus rebuked Peter for allowing himself to get distracted from the mission. The mission was not one of earthly power and prestige, but Jesus’s mission was, and is to this day, to save the world one relationship at a time.

Let us not forget that our church, the church which Christ Jesus himself established some 2000 odd years ago, was not a church founded on dogmas, doctrines, and traditions. Our church was started by a group of people who had a personal encounter with the Savior of the World. This encounter was not just for them. Today we do not celebrate THEIR relationship with Jesus. We celebrate OUR relationship with Jesus. Our church is a church founded on the one, central, and essential fact that Jesus Christ desires a personal, intimate, and dynamic relationship with each and every individual on this planet; throughout all of time and history even time and history not yet experienced.

When Jesus instructs his disciples that they must take up their cross and follow him, he is not asking them to assent to a systematic set of beliefs and creeds. Rather, he is inviting them to relationship. A relationship that is personal, intimate, and founded in love and trust. A relationship, which our creeds and catechism are designed to remind and to inspire us to carry on this earthly pilgrimage living as holy men and women of God.
I ask you this day as you are preparing yourself to receive the very Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior, to recall your own personal relationship with Jesus. Are you carrying your cross and following him, or have you allowed the distractions of life to divert your path?

The distractions, I remind you, are unavoidable. We cannot prevent them from occurring because they are real. They wound, they cause pain, and, if we allow them, they will pull us away from the path to which we have been called. The path of following Jesus, giving him all of who we are, so that we may reap the rewards which he promises to those who don’t abandon him.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, remember that God has called you. Called you to love him, to serve him, and most importantly he has called you to a relationship with him. A relationship that does not disappoint. A relationship which will preserve you and fill you with hope, joy, and love. Today, recall that relationship and allowed yourself to be filled up so you can continue in that relationship.