Week 4 of Lent - Gospel Meditations and Prayers for Lent
Sunday March 10th, 2013
Sunday March 10th, 2013
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
'But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."'
The parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the richest of Jesus’ stories, and it has, quite properly given rise to an elaborate set of imaginative reflections, from Augustine to Karl Barth. But it is always worth coming back to the motive for Jesus’ recounting of the tale: there are those who “murmur” against the fact that Jesus “receives sinners and eats with them” (Lk. 15:2). Jesus is explaining why he spends his time with “tax collectors and sinners” (15:1), and he does so by first offering the images of the lost sheep that is searched after and found, and the lost coin that the widow scours the house for and finally recovers. In both cases, what is lost is found, and rejoicing is the response. So too, the tale of the Prodigal Son is about why Jesus consorts with sinners: for their repentance and for the joy of their return to God.
It is worth pondering this fact, over and over, first in view of our own relation to God, and second, in view of our own life with others in God. There is, of course, the fundamental truth expressed by Jeremiah: “Return, faithless Israel, says the LORD. I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful, says the LORD; I will not be angry for ever” (Jer. 3:12). This truth is reiterated over and over in the Scriptures. But there is more to Jesus’ affirmation of this bedrock reality; for now, in the parable, he is saying that God himself is “returning” to lost Israel, that God himself goes out to meet the tax-collector and sinner, that God himself is the one who “runs out”, and embraces even the lost. The parable is about where God goes: God comes to us, first and foremost, to “his own”, whether we reject him or receive him. Yet he comes. Obviously the very shape of the Incarnate mission of the Son is given here. But so too its goal: a heavenly return and heavenly joy. And is not this the very trajectory that our Lord would also set us upon? This “running out” and “embracing” of others, lost though they be now yet bound by our coming to return? Will we not find our joy here also, because this is where God’s joy is lodged?
Heavenly Father; even before I open my mouth in prayer, you have turned to me and come to me. It is you who lets me return to your love. Thank you for loving me before all things - In Christ Jesus I pray. Amen.
The Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner
Professor of Historical Theology, Ephraim was a rector in Colorado and missionary in Haiti, inner-city Cleveland, and Connecticut. He has taught at seminaries in Connecticut and Colorado.
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