21Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
Sunday’s lectionary scripture is about the Prodigal Son. (Luke 15:11b-32) I imagine this scripture has been dissected and pulled apart in every which way possible. So why do we still look at it? Study it? Preach about it? And during the Lenten Season no less?
It’s just like a children’s story. How many times did you read your favorite children’s book? How many times did we want our teachers and parents read the same book to us? It’s familiar. It’s predictable. It’s relatable. It’s hopeful.
So how does the Parable of the Prodigal Son relate to us today? How does it relate to you? Are you more of the father? The son who ran away and returned? The angry son? The crowd witnessing the family dynamics?
I am stuck on the son who squandered all that was given to him and then became the one in need. He took advantage of all that had been given to him, not the least of which was the love and trust that his father had given – from his heart – and he gave it up. He ran away from those that love him and ended up losing everything in the process. Now he wants to come back. Did he learn a lesson or is he just playing with daddy’s heart?
I have a tendency to look at the characters and think behind the scenes. I will ask lots of questions. I will ask the “what if” questions. I want to get into their minds and wonder what they are really thinking. I want to get into their hearts and wonder what are they really feeling.
I need to give the Prodigal Son the benefit of the doubt. Right now, I need to imagine that he feels extremely guilty. After all, he did realize that he promised his father he would be the best that he could with what he was given and he messed up. In his head, he is thinking about all that he took from dad, from his brother, from the family, and from the people in the community. In his heart, he is feeling an extreme amount of guilt for not living up to his covenant – the promise I made, I mean he made, to trust, to love, to take care of himself and others. He probably imagined the ridicule and criticism he would feel from all the other people in the community who could see his failure and he will feel the pain from that.
Thankfully, he is more worried about the thoughts of his father. He is worried about facing his father to the point that he does not feel worthy to be called son. I wonder if his father had not seen him, if his guilt would have caused the son to turn around and run another way, to hide behind a tree. This time, it wouldn’t be out of selfishness, but out of shear guilt and shame for what he had done and for what he was feeling. Then he saw his father, running towards him with arms opened wide, eyes full of love, and a heart full of grace. Yet, he didn’t think he deserved any of it.
Have you ever felt like you didn’t deserve grace, love and arms around your soul to carry you? Did you ever feel like you should run away because you had let God down so much, you didn’t deserve to come back into God’s arms? Can the shame and guilt be so deep and so painful that you just want to hide from the world and let your mind and heart beat you to a pulp, not letting anyone love you again? That way, the son knew he wouldn’t be able to disappoint anyone else again.
I wonder how this story relates to you today on this Lenten Journey. Let us come home soon.