The story of the Prodigal Son is familiar to many in the Christian faith. Much ink has been used to describe and debate who was the real prodigal in this story, what is the balance between justice and compassion, and what is the main point of Jesus telling the story. Start with the audience in that precedes the story – tax collectors, sinners, Pharisees, and scribes. The former two are among the most looked down upon by the latter. The Pharisees and scribes were the great religious teachers and protectors of the Law. It was their very piety that allowed them to cast others as sinners and lesser-than. As you read this story, read it several times, and each time imagine being one of the listeners from their different stations in life. How do you hear this story through the ears of a sinner, a marginalized person? How do you hear it as someone who uses their faith to judge others? How do you hear it as a general person in the crowd watching this push and pull between the compassion of Jesus and the standards of Pharisaical justice?
Lent is a painful season of reflection and sacrifice. I ask myself these questions as I reflect on my role in this story. Who am I in the audience? Who am I in the story? What am I doing to help others experience the compassion of Jesus? I invite you to meditate on these things as well.
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:
“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.'”
This Monday devotion is brought to you by Campbell University’s Center for Church and Community.