Saturday, March 9, 2013

Prodigal Son

Look at the hands, reaching out in compassion. Look at them, reaching out in mercy. Look at them, reaching out in love.

Look at them. Look at them with joy, not sorrow, with gladness, not anger, with happiness, not jealousy, with peace, not hate, with love, not fear.

Look at them, the father's hands.

Reaching out to the wayward son, comforting him, bringing him home.

He was lost, and is found; was dead, and is alive; was blind, and now he sees!

The elder son - where is he? In the shadows? Is he the observer, cloaked in red like the father? Does he look on this embrace with gladness? Is his heart melting?

The father reaches out to the elder son as well. All that is mine is yours... but he who was lost is found. Can you join the celebration?

The Homecoming, by C. P. Snow, creates an image of returning again to the same place, the place he started from, and finding it for the first time a homecoming to a place of peace, of rest, of joy.

What was once feared, or regretted, or a source of sorrow, has now, by stint of infinite striving, become a place of welcome.

Devastating loneliness, wandering, ashamed, lonely, desperate and destitute, the younger son comes to himself: greed and lust are spent. But he is not worthy to be called a son.

Outraged, angry, jealous, hard of heart, the older son looks on without compassion or mercy. Calling him, the father extends the same grace.

Prodigality and abundance are two different things. The extravagance, the wandering wastefulness, the vagrant reckless pride and conceit of the poor wandering one.

The overflowing plentiful affluence - wealth, even - of the father's gift of love. His forgiveness is infinite in value, beyond price or measure.

God's forgiveness is abundant, but not wasteful, not really. Wandering it may seem to be - but it is we who wander, and we who are welcomed home.

It is we who in our turn are called to welcome others.

That is what Paul is on to, in his letters to the young church of the Corinthians: we are reconciled, now we are agents of reconciliation for others.

We do not simply come home. We turn, and in our turn, embrace.

These two boys - the sons - in the beginning have no sense of the value of what they have.

John Newton, writing of his sister-in-law, said, "She knew whom she believed. She possessed a peace past understanding and a hope full of glory." ("Narrative of Eliza Cunningham" by John Newton, in the third volume of a collection of tracts published by the American Tract Society of New-York, n.d.)

She possessed greater wealth than either son knew he had, at the beginning of our story today. The older son had the presence of his father; the younger, his generosity. But neither really realized the true gift they had in their hand, all the time: the unlimited, unmerited grace, the boundless mercy and love, the endless compassion of a loving Father: the overflowing joy of his love, his gladness, his delight in them. They did not have to earn it; they could not: it was there all the time.

That overflowing love - perhaps they, and we, can come home, and know it again for the first time. So we can come home through Jesus, meeting him again as if for the first time, when we open/reopen ourselves to his overflowing love.

Father of all,
    we give you thanks and praise,
    that when we were still far off
    you met us in your Son and brought us home.
    Dying and living, he declared your love,
    gave us grace, and opened the gate of glory.
    May we who share Christ's body live his risen life;
    we who drink his cup bring life to others;
    we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world.
    Keep us firm in the hope you have set before us,
    so we and all your children shall be free,
    and the whole earth live to praise your name;
    through Christ our Lord.

(Post-communion prayer, Common Worship, Church of England, Holy Communion, Order One. accessed March 9, 2013)
Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Meditation on Fathers, Brothers, and Sons (New York: Doubleday, 1992)

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