Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate. ‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”’
Many people who have read or heard this parable of Jesus look at it with a world view overlayed on it. The son was wastefully extravagant. He should be punished for his actions, not welcomed with open arms, a suit of clothes and a big kiss. The father is also wastefully extravagant because his son was back at home with him. The father was overflowing with joy for his son’s return. His prayers have been answered. The lost one had returned, to face the consequences of his actions and the judgement of his father. This is a repentant son, who has realised that his actions had caused pain to his father, to everyone he had been living among, including himself. He has come to the end of himself and is ready to make a new beginning. Do we recognise this situation in our own lives?
The father in the story we know is God, the prodigal son is a human person, who has forgotten that God loves them, with a deep and passionate love, which cannot be extinguished by any action we can perform in life. God is always watching for the lost ones to be welcomed, unconditionally, into that deep love, which will never allow us to be lost ever again. Through the return of the son we are able to perceive more than the story of a wayward, strong-minded boy, to the heart of a father, who shows great patience and love for his absent son, being able to welcome him, with open arms back into the family, with rejoicing and celebration. The one who is lost has been found and great is the rejoicing!
Loving God, who opens your arms wide to accept and welcome us into your love, help us to each feel the warmth and heat of your powerful love for us. May we find our joy and peace in you, always. Amen
The Revd Sue Chapman, Minister, Hove & Portslade Pastorate, East Sussex