Cultivating Forgiveness

March 31, 2019

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

You have probably heard this parable countless times over the years. I am sure there are just as many interpretations of this parable as there are preachers. Ok, that may be taking it a little far, but you get the point. Is this a story of greed, sloth, wastefulness, envy, anger? Yes! We can find all of that within the parable. Looking beyond that, the parable of the prodigal son can call us into ourselves to explore and discover where we may find ourselves in the story.

Do you see yourself as the prodigal that has all of a sudden came into a great fortune and are now looking for ways to go out and spend it? Or, do you see yourself as the older brother that appears to have come to the point where he despises his brother and is angry at his return? Maybe you see yourself as the father that welcomes the prodigal home with a loving embrace, the finest clothes, and a feast fit for royalty.

The father looks past the fact that in his culture his son shamed him when asking for his inheritance, already writing his father off as dead. The older son is disregarded by his father and feels that he has never had the same attention paid to him. When we encounter them upon the prodigal son’s return home, they are both outside of the house. They are both left searching for something and one of them finds it. Through it all, we are reminded of the grace that God is there to welcome us home.

It is possible, that you do not feel anything when hearing this parable. Maybe it does not resonate with you. What if we were to hear a modern version of this parable? Scott Higgins shares this modern day version:

Jenny grew up near Portland, Maine. In her early teenage years, she fell into a pattern of long running battles with her parents. They didn’t react too well when she came home with a nose ring. They were furious when she stayed out all night without so much as a phone call to tell them where she was. Her friends weren’t exactly her parent’s first choice.

One night Jenny and her folks have a huge fight. “I hate you!” she screams at her father as she slams the door to her bedroom. That night she acts on a plan that’s been forming for some time. Once everyone has gone to sleep, she gets dressed, packs a bag and goes into the kitchen. Opening the kitchen drawer, she rifles through her parent’s wallets. She takes the credit cards, the cash, and their bank book. She hops on a bus and heads for New York City. When she gets there, she waits on the doorstep of the Bank so she can be the first through the door. She forges her mother’s signature and withdraws $12500 her parents had in their investment account. She grabs a cab to the airport and uses the money to buy a ticket to Los Angeles, the last place she figures her parents will look for her.

She arrives in Los Angeles, and pretty soon she’s enjoying the high life – a new group of friends, plenty of booze, late nights, sleep all day, no school, no parent’s hassling her about a nose ring, let alone her experiments with sex and drugs. It doesn’t take long until the $12500’s gone and the credit cards have been cancelled.

Back home her parents are frantic. Her mom had to start stocking shelves at night to pay off the credit card debt, and the $12500 set aside for her sister’s university tuition is gone. The police are notified, the streets are searched – first Portland, and then the greater New England area. Her parents don’t know what’s happened. They fear the worst.

Meanwhile down on the streets of LA things aren’t going too well. Jenny’s soon addicted to heroin and the money she stole doesn’t go too far. She moves into a tiny apartment and starts selling herself for sex.

One day she’s walking down the street and sees a poster on the electrical pole. It’s headed “Have you seen this girl?” Below the heading is a photo of her – at least as she used to look. The poster’s got her parent’s phone number on it and asks for anyone with information to call. Jenny rips the poster down, folds it up and puts it into her pocket.

The months pass, then the years. Jenny’s been careless one time too many. At first, she writes off her sickness as just another bout of flu. But the illness persists. She goes to the free clinic to discover she’s contracted Hepatitis C and HIV. Nobody wants her now!

As she sits lonely, tired and hungry in the tiny apartment, she looks at the poster she’d rescued from that electrical pole and saved for the last few years. She thinks back to her previous life – as a typical schoolgirl in a middle-class suburban Portland family. It triggers memories of the famous family water fight one steaming summer day when she was 12; and of crazy moments dancing together; of her sister’s comforting arms when she broke up with David. “God, why did I leave?” she says to herself. “Even the family mutt lives a better life than I do.” She’s sobbing now and knows that more than anything she wants to go home.

Three straight phone calls, three connections with the answering machine. She hangs up without leaving a message the first two times, but the third time she says, “Mom, dad, it’s me. I was wondering about maybe coming home. I’m catching a flight to Portland. I’ll be at the airport about midnight tomorrow. If you’re not there, well I guess I’ll just stay in the airport until morning and then find some place to crash.”

The next day on the flight Jenny thinks about all the flaws in her plan. What if mom and dad were out and miss the message? And what are they going to do if they heard it anyway – after all, it’s been 10 years and they haven’t heard a word from me in all that time. How are they going to react when they discover I’m a junkie with AIDS? If they do show up what on earth am I going to say?…”

The flight lands at ten minutes past midnight. She hears the cabin pressure release as the door to the plane opens and she exits and heads toward the gate. “This is it. Oh well, get ready for nothing.”

Jenny steps out on to the concourse not knowing what to expect. She looks to her right and sees no one, but before she can look to her left, she hears someone call her name. Her head whips around and there’s her mom and dad and her sister and her aunts and uncles and cousins and grandmother. They’re holding a banner that reads “Welcome home”, and everyone’s wearing goofy party hats and throwing streamers and popping party poppers, and there’s her mom and dad running towards her, tears streaming down their face, arms held wide. Jenny can’t move. Her parent’s grab her with such force it almost knocks her over.

“Dad, I’m sorry. I know…”

“Hush child. Forget the apologies. All we care about is that you are home. I just want to hold you. Come on, everyone’s waiting – we’ve got a big party organized at home.” And Jenny finds herself awash in a sea of family and love that she has not known for over 10 years.[1]

Today we find ourselves in the fourth Sunday of Lent. This season of Lent, we have been talking about those things in our lives that we want to let go of so that we can begin to foster a deeper relationship with God. By letting go, we begin to cultivate areas in our lives that essentially lead to new life. A new life in Jesus Christ.

The answers for what are you going to let go and what are you going to cultivate are not a one size fits all answer. We are each on a different part of our faith journey. Some of us may even feel like we are on a different path completely. Don’t lose hope in this. No matter where we are at in our faith journey, God is present. God is present when we are greedy and want to walk off into the distance. God is present when we are wasteful and find ourselves wallowing in the mud. God is present in our anger and envy and even when we go as far to seek vengeance.

More importantly, God is present to welcome us home. This Lenten season is all about repentance, or letting go, and returning to God. May you feel the warming embrace of Christ these next few weeks as we walk towards the cross with Jesus and be prepared to encounter his suffering. For in his suffering, death is conquered, resurrection triumphs and we all will find new life.

Let us pray. Welcoming God, we are so quick at times to turn others away and not give them the time of day. May we learn from you what it means to open our hearts to all and proclaim your gospel message. Amen.  


[1] Source: A fictional story by Scott Higgins modelled on a similar story in Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace and paralleling the story of the prodigal son

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