FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT (2022)
2 Corinthians 5:17-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Today is Laetare Sunday, because the opening word of the Introit is, “Rejoice.” We are meant to rejoice because we are halfway through Lent. We are meant to rejoice because God has redeemed us, and, in spite of how sinful we might be, He has opened the gates of heaven for us.
How fortunate we are that the evangelist Luke has provided us with some of the most beautiful, and instructive, passages in all of Scripture. Today’s gospel parable is traditionally called that of the Prodigal Son, and with two other parables about a lost sheep and a lost coin, make up a rather lengthy response to the Pharisees and Scribes who were doing what they do best – complaining. Luke’s fifteenth chapter begins by letting us know that “tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus.” Much to the dismay of the Scribes and Pharisees, not only did Jesus “welcome” the presence of sinners, He also had the gall “to eat with them.”
By the time Jesus is done telling parables to the Scribes and Pharisees in the middle of chapter sixteen, all they can do is “sneer” at Jesus, Luke tells us. They will, of course, play a significant role in bringing Jesus’ public ministry to an end on a cross. For today, we can only thank the Scribes and Pharisees, for if their usual obstreperousness was the cause of Jesus telling such a marvelous parable, we can be sincerely grateful.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son begs for numerous interpretations, for while the younger son is surely the protagonist in Jesus’ story, the parable is surely dependent for its impact on the older brother’s reaction and on the overwhelming benevolence of the Father.
The younger son not only manifests the impetuousness of youth, but he even more seriously shows little respect for the kind father by asking for his inheritance well before it would have been normally granted. He is clearly restless. Perhaps he is bored with the normal chores; perhaps he finds his dutiful older brother tiring. Whatever the reason, he goes off to find the good life, and soon “squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.”
While he was disrespectful and impetuous, the younger son wasn’t stupid, so “coming to his senses” he knew he had to return to his father, and, more importantly, he realized that he had sinned. His experiences had humbled him, and he was willing to be treated like “one of the hired workers.” The last thing that the younger son could have expected from his father, who had daily looked from afar for his younger son’s return, was his father’s kisses and embrace, and the ring, and robe, and sandals – all frosting that had confirmed he had done the right thing. But the party, the celebration, that was the last thing he could have been thinking about as he slithered his way back home. Nor could he have expected his brother’s indifference.
The older brother was a lot like the Pharisees and Scribes, self-righteous and privileged, unconcerned about his lost brother, unconcerned about the tax collectors and sinners who were already doomed. He stubbornly was not in the mood for a party. When we meet them in the gospels, the Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees, also never seem to be in the mood for a party.
“Partyers” have a poor reputation, yet our God, like the father in today’s parable, is constantly looking out the window for our return to Him, and He is eager to celebrate and party. Jesus’ ministry was filled with party moments – the large catches of fish, the sheer happiness of the blind from birth seeing once again, the lame who could not walk but now who wished to dance like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. It’s no accident, that on the night before He died Jesus left us the makings of a permanent celebration, the Eucharist. If our celebrations of the Eucharist do not feel like a party, then perhaps there is something wrong with the way we are celebrating! God’s infinite goodness, demonstrated by the father in today’s parable, wants us to be happy. He doesn’t give us ring, robe, or sandals, but what He does give us is much more valuable – eternal life. I would hope at that final party when God welcomes us back home to heaven, we have the courage and the desire to dance. I leave you with some lyrics from Lee Ann Womack’s famous song.
- I hope you never lose your sense of wonder You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger May you never take one single breath for granted God forbid love ever leave you empty handed I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance I hope you dance
- I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance Never settle for the path of least resistance Livin’ might mean takin’ chances, but they’re worth takin’ Lovin’ might be a mistake, but it’s worth makin’ Don’t let some Hell bent heart leave you bitter When you come close to sellin’ out, reconsider Give the Heavens above more than just a passing glance And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you danceI hope you dance!