Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church
Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
4 Lent/C—March 31, 2019
Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, March 31, 2019
For those of us with siblings, this parable of the prodigal son may bring back memories of sibling rivalry, moments of competition—some playful and others deeply hurtful. You may recall arguments about who should get more allowance; who should get the privilege of sitting in the front seat next to mom or dad; or even who gets to stay up the latest. Just below the surface of these seemingly insignificant quarrels is the profound question of who is the favorite. My mother, I suppose, like many parents, would never claim to have a favorite child. She stood, at once, in the midst of her first-born and her “baby,” while masterfully binding together two girls within our family unit.
Consider the workplace where some may believe that seniority outweighs performance. Who is deserving of promotion? The loyal senior person, who has worked at a company the longest and is obedient to the status quo or the newer worker who outperforms the one with seniority, and consistently exceeds status quo? What does each worker deserve?
Today we find ourselves engaged in a parable about TWO sons and ONE father. Labels aside, you know “these guys.” On the one hand you have “this guy” who is bold enough to risk disrespecting his father and Jewish tradition to explore the unknown life outside of the family he already knows. His actions appear to be reckless to others—you know “this guy.”
On the other hand, there’s “that guy” who does everything by the rules and expects to be acknowledged and rewarded accordingly. “That guy” lives in black and white with no shades of gray. And, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we must recognize that we know “this guy” and “that guy” intimately because on any given day, sometimes at multiple points within that same day, we are they.
Let’s examine “this guy” who is labeled as the prodigal son. The adjective, “prodigal,” means excessive or reckless. “This reckless, excessive guy” is not a good steward of his mind, body or spirit, which is reflected in his poor stewardship of his relationships within his family unit in which he is inherently entangled. Who is “this guy” who would dare to demand, not ask, to be given his inheritance at the wrong time? He boldly asks his father for his inheritance and he receives it, but at what cost to the relationship with his father and with his elder brother?
But, let’s not be too hard on “this guy,” as I suspect that we, too, may not claim to always be good stewards of all that God has given us—ourselves; our relationships; our finances and our environment.
We don’t know how the father responded to his son’s demand, other than he complied.
Not only did he comply, we are told that he divided his property between the two sons. According to Jewish tradition, the younger son was entitled to receive only one-third of the property. One might speculate that the dividing of the property “between them” meant that half of the property, more than his deserved share, was bestowed upon the younger son. Of course such an action would cause the older brother to investigate the absurdity of his father’s generosity.
That brings us to “that guy,” who is characterized as the angry, resentful elder son.
As much as he bad mouthed his brother, about selfishly abandoning the family, that guy, the elder son, was more like his younger brother than he knew. When his father came out to the field to meet him where he was, he let him have it.
“Why do you care that I come to this celebration for YOUR son? You’ve never acknowledged how I have slaved for you all these years and how I’ve never disobeyed your command. For all of that, I don’t even get a scrawny goat to celebrate with my friends.” He essentially said, “I’ve got seniority around here.”
Perhaps “that guy” is the prodigal son, as he recklessly wielded his sword of anger and resentment, cutting himself off from relationship with a father who never left him and from the brother who did leave, but has now returned to his family, humbled, saying, “give me another chance.”
Unlike the father’s interaction with the younger son, we do know how he responds to his elder son. He responds with a statement of reassurance and love, “All that is mine is yours.” Blinded by jealousy, the angry son missed the message that his father would deny him nothing if he asked. The more “that guy” hung on to the anger, the hurt and resentment, the more he distanced himself from his father’s unwavering love for him.
There is a lot that can still be said about the brothers and their relationship. But, this parable is not about sibling rivalry. If we make the parable all about the brothers, “this guy” and “that guy,” we just might ignore the “other guy.” You know the one who at once, stands in their midst binding them in a unit of human connection called a relationship. This “other guy” is the father. And, I dare say that he is the prodigal father who excessively and recklessly expresses his love for his two sons.
Through our Baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ, we are bound to our prodigal lover in divine relationship with God’s self and with our sisters and brothers in Christ—eternally entangled.
We will soon gather around the holy table to break bread together. No matter who shows up at that table— “this so-called prodigal son,” “that angry brother;” Pharisee; tax collector and sinners alike—it is by God’s grace and mercy, that we are given another chance to forgive and to be forgiven, and to reconcile our relationship with God and our neighbors.
And while we, the children of God, may at times, feel like we are still far off from our father, let us rejoice in knowing that no matter what we do, we are inextricably entangled with the One who knows exactly who we are; the One who runs toward us with wild, reckless abandon to meet us right where we are and just as we are. Through our lives in Christ, we are eternally, excessively and recklessly entangled with God, the One who prodigally loves us.
Thanks be to God.