Jesus can be very annoying. Ask the local religious authorities, the Pharisees, how annoyed they feel about Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors and breaking religious laws right and left. Jesus will further annoy them by telling this story about a wealthy man with two sons.
While one son stays at home to work, the other son takes off with a heavy bag of his dad’s money and parties wildly until he is broke and has to get a lowly job feeding pigs.
He realizes that he has really blown it. He’s going to have to walk home and beg his father for forgiveness. His father has been watching for him, and when he sees his boy in the distance his heart gives a leap. This proud man takes off running and doesn’t care how silly he looks, sweating and dusty, pounding down the road on his old legs. HIS SON IS HOME! He wraps his arms around him and kisses him.
The tired boy is trying to say he is sorry but his dad doesn’t hear him. He’s shouting to the servants, “Quickly! Let’s have a feast! Prepare the fattest calf and invite everyone to a party! My son was dead and now he is alive. He was lost and now he is found!”
It would be very tidy if the story ended here. Instead, at this point Jesus invites those judgmental Pharisees and us into the story.
How do you think the other son is feeling? The good son is livid when he sees all this. He has stayed home, working hard. He has probably been mad at his reckless brother for years. By being angry and judgmental this son has sinned just as much as his dissolute brother. His father stands by him, loving and forgiving just as our father stands by us, loving and forgiving us when we are judgmental and angry, as we try to change.
Jesus tells this story to the Pharisees, who, like the good son, follow all the rules and harshly judge those who don’t. Jesus tells them that God cares more about that lost, sinning son than self-righteous people who are too busy judging others to see their own failings.
No matter how hard we try to be good sons and daughters, no matter how hard we try to live right and follow the rules, at heart, most of us fall short. This season of Lent is a good time to judge our own behavior. The primary commandment is to love one another. How are we doing with that? Do we really love our neighbors? All of them? We may be a bit lost but we can use this season of self-reflection to find our way. We can be found through God’s bountiful, prodigal grace.
Please join a Lenten meal at a church in your area for a chance to reflect on your own journey.
Corby Varness is lay preacher at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Montesano.