Fourth Sunday of Lent
14 March 2010
Lent 4C (RCL)
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
The story of the prodigal son is one of the most familiar in the New Testament (second only maybe to the Good Samaritan). The usual interpretation has to do with God’s great grace in forgiving us when we have wandered far from God. Or, sometimes, we talk about our resentment at seeing others, more profligate than us, receiving God’s grace.
The story can be read as about the relationship between Jewish and Gentile christians. In the first two chapters of the Epistle to the Romans, Paul paints essentially the same picture of the Gentiles as Luke does of the younger son — once knowing God, having exchanged true worship for idolatry, and so on. One can easily imagine Jewish christians in Paul’s communities feeling like the older brother in the story. Interestingly enough, however, the story-teller has chosen to cast the Gentile christian as the younger brother. Jewish christians would have heard echoes of their own epic in that. Jacob and Esau, Joseph, David, Solomon, all younger brothers. The story-teller is asking Jewish christians to hear their own story in the story of the Gentile christians.
The story-teller leaves the story unresolved. Does the older brother come in to the party? What does the younger brother say to his older brother the next day, when everyone has to go back to work. In the passage from 2 Corinthians, Paul tells us that the ministry of reconciliation has been given to us, that God is making God’s appeal through us, Christ’s ambassadors. Who are the brothers in our day? How can we work for reconciliation between them? The story is a reminder that we have all received God’s grace, and we have to be willing to look at the world through someone else’s perspective, in order to be reconciled to them.