2 Cor. 5:16-21
Luke 15:1-3; 11-32
Lent IV, Year C
The topic this morning is parables. Matthew [13:34] says that Jesus only taught in parables, i.e., sayings or stories where one thing or person can represent another. The meaning is in the eye of the beholder; we connect the dots ourselves. They are open-ended, inexhaustible. Like the father in today’s story, parables come out to meet us where we are on the road and take us to new levels of understanding.If Jesus taught only in parables, that implies that even his actions can be “read” as parables. Everything he did, besides being what he did, could be read as a parable, where one thing can stand for another. So, washing feet can represent other kinds of loving service. Physical healing can represent other kinds of healing. Turning water into wine can represent other kinds of transformation.
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Wasteful, extravagant, profligate, spendthrift. These are all words that are synonymous with the first definition in the dictionary of the word prodigal. I have to admit that it was only recently that I learned that word’s true meaning. I grew up in the Baptist church and all my life have been steeped in scripture. I estimate that I’ve heard this parable from Luke’s gospel thousands of times in my lifetime. But I never knew the true meaning of the word prodigal. I had always just assumed it either meant ‘lost,’ as in the parable of the lost son. Or perhaps ‘repentant,’ as in the parable of the repentant son. These certainly could fit. But after finally looking up the word, it all makes sense. Prodigal: spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.
There is not anything particularly unusual about the younger son’s request for his inheritance. In William Barclay’s commentary on Luke’s gospel, he says that when a patriarch was of a certain age, he could go ahead and settle his affairs early. By law the eldest son would get two-thirds of his father’s estate and the youngest would get one-third.[i]Jesus places no judgments on the younger son but simply implies that the he wanted to go live his life and asked for his share of inheritance and left. It seems perfectly normal for a young person to desire this. In my own life, I remember I couldn’t wait to leave the hills of southwestern Virginia and experience what life had in store for me in a bigger, exciting city.