Gospel Meditations and Prayers for Lent - Fourth Sunday
Dec 03, 2023
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So he told them this parable:
Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”
“Bring the fatted calf and slaughter it; let us eat and rejoice, for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
Here in the long gray middle of Lent, suddenly a word of joy. For the Prodigal Son is every one of us. That is the first thing Lent calls us to know. We have been given such grace, the love of God poured out for us in the beginning, in the beauty of the first garden and the walk with God; the love of God poured out for us in his people Israel and in the prophets and finally in Christ Jesus our Lord. And repeatedly we turn away. Now and in the beginning, we turn away; though God invites us to walk with Him we prefer a far country and we squander our inheritance, our church and the riches of His Word, and we find ourselves parched and hungry, longing for a home. We are this Lent the wayward child, and we can only say, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” We may say it, indeed, as the Prodigal Son does, simply because we are desperate, and without much hope: “Make me one of your hired hands.” But the Father comes running while the son is still far off and throws his arms around him and kisses him, and orders up the best robe and a ring for his finger and the fatted calf, music and a feast. “Esplangchnisthe”, the Greek reads: he was filled with compassion. This is the second thing Lent tells us. God’s love goes before us, greater than our despair; in Christ Jesus he stretches out his arms to us in suffering love to cast away our sin and to bring us home. Amazing grace. We walk this Lent toward Good Friday, the day on which we are found. And shall we, Jesus asks us from the cross, love each other, forgive each other, rejoice with each other, any less?
Father, we gaze this Lent on your compassion in Jesus Christ our Lord: see from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down. Give us grace to love each other as you have in Him loved us. Amen.
By The Rev. Dr. Catherine Sider Hamilton
Catherine is Priest-in-Charge of St. Matthew's Anglican Church, First Ave and Assistant Professor of New Testament and Greek at Wycliffe. Her book "The Death of Jesus in Matthew: Innocent Blood and the End of Exile." is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press. She and her husband David have four (mostly) adult children; the tenderness of the Prodigal Son parable is for her particularly moving.