Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 (NRSV)
Chapter 15Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. Verse 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." Verse 3So he told them this parable:
Verse 11Then Jesus said, "There was a man who had two sons. Verse 12The 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. Verse 13A 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. Verse 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. Verse 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. Verse 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. Verse 17But 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! Verse 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; Verse 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands."' Verse 20So 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. Verse 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.' Verse 22But 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. Verse 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; Verse 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate. Verse 25"Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. Verse 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. Verse 27He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.' Verse 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. Verse 29But 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. Verse 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!' Verse 31Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. Verse 32But 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.'"
Though beautiful, this parable is also frustrating, perhaps because we tend to read ourselves into it as the older brother. We think of times when the effort we put into something didn't match the reward we received, when our work went unacknowledged, when we wanted to be happy for somebody else, but just couldn't.
Today, let's read ourselves into this passage as the younger brother. Think of a time when you had a good idea that didn't pan out, when you lived beyond your means, when you realized you needed help and mustered the strength to grovel a little for it. But this story won't leave us there, dwelling on our sin and guilt; it isn't about those things. It's about wandering into forgiveness. If we imagine ourselves as the younger brother, we also imagine the people who will greet us and celebrate us with reckless abandon when we return from our seasons away.
God, thank you for staying with me no matter where I stray, what I do, or when I come back home. Help me to keep returning to those people in my life who take after your example and love me unconditionally. Amen.