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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 15:11–19          

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 traveled 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.”‘” (NRSV)

A couple of weeks ago, we had a text about the Israelites in the wilderness, and their whining and ingratitude. Here we have the prodigal son, feeding pigs better than anyone feeds him, remembering how well people were treated and fed in his father’s house, wishing he were back home. Two stories of people who made their exodus, two stories of people who find that freedom isn’t all beer and ice cream. Two very different endings—in one, the whining results in temporary gratification but also in a crippling and devastating plague; in the other, the realization results in reunion and restoration.

The difference? Check out verse 17 here. “But when he came to himself . . .” The prodigal comes to himself. He looks at his situation and realizes that his circumstances are the result of his own choices and actions. There is always a good question to ask when life goes off the rails: what’s the common thread? Who is around every time my life goes cockeyed? The answer to that question is usually found in a mirror.

Accepting the things you cannot change and changing the things you can are actions of personal responsibility; they are declarations of agency in a world that often reinforces the idea that we have no agency, that someone else is always to blame for our problems and responsible for fixing them. When we abdicate all agency, we also attempt to absolve ourselves for inaction: if we are powerless, why try? It’s just dressing up surrender to circumstance.

The prodigal shows great courage in the end, looking in that mirror, seeing who caused the problem, and taking steps to change it. Here’s hoping we can find the wherewithal to come to ourselves in the same way.

Lord, you have given us freedom, and you have given us responsibility, and we too often abuse them both. Help us come to ourselves and turn away from the self-involvement that eventually ruins us. Remind us that, in turning away from self-involvement, we turn toward you. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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