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Daily Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, March 27, 2022  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Luke 15:1–3, 11b33

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable:

 “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.”’ 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.’” (NRSV)

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the most familiar passages of the New Testament. Each of the characters—the wayward son, the forgiving father, and the disapproving older brother—can be the subject of study. Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia, may be the most famous of depictions. A friend framed a small reproduction that hangs at eye level in front of my reading chair. I also treasure a wonderful book, And Grace Will Lead Me Home: Images of the Prodigal Son, that includes fifty-three depictions of “The Prodigal.” They were selected from the Jerry Evenrud Collection that contains more than 200 images by artists from all over the world, spanning nine centuries. It includes a Peanuts comics excerpt in which Soopy, reflecting upon a reading of the parable, asks, “What did the calf do to deserve that?” Selections from Evenrud’s collection were displayed at Fourth Church in 1993. “The Prodigal” has many layers of interpretation.

Parables resist reduction to only one or a few main points. That was “the point,” we think, in their use by Jesus. Here we have the Pharisees grumbling and muttering about Jesus’ welcoming “tax collectors and sinners” to his teaching, thereby reminding us of his inclusiveness. After offering two stories or parables about loss, recapture, and joy, Jesus launches into the longest of parables, “The Parable of the Lost Son.” Is that the best or only caption? Could it also be “The Parable of Joy Recovered?” or “The Parable of Familial Relationships?” To whom was Jesus directing his message? Was it the ordinary folk who dealt with confused children, trying to hold their households together in the face of difficulties, or hoping to navigate their beliefs and values that differed from governing powers? Or was he addressing the establishment leaders? Probably both, is my answer. And I suspect that the author of Luke was suggesting that we hearers of the Word might put ourselves in any of the characters portrayed: an errant child who’s screwed up badly but hopes he can go home again to a parent’s embrace; or as a parent/spouse/friend who prays for a beloved person to just show up; or as a stalwart rule-follower (mask-wearer?) who gulps and prays to understand, to be less judgmental, and love.

Two thousand years later, a not-so-simple parable instructs.

Loving God, times are hard. I struggle for meaning. Help me to be quiet, to search deeply for the real meaning of your words. And then, not to complicate them, but live simply by them. Amen.

Written by Rebecca Dixon, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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