Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
“With God’s Eyes”
We all know the Parable of the Prodigal Son quite well. Jesus tells this elaborate story just after the shorter ones about the lost sheep and the lost coin. And we know that it is a beautiful expression of God’s forgiving love for each one of us. No matter how far we wander, or how lost we get, or how many selfish choices we make, we are always welcome to come home. Indeed, God longs for us to return, waits for us with expectation, and celebrates with joy when we come back.
At this mid-way point in the Season of Lent, if we are still using our time, talent, and treasure primarily for our own comfort and enjoyment, we’re invited again to return in our hearts to God’s household where both service and celebration are shared. God does not ask us to explain what we’ve been doing while we were away, but simply rejoices that we decided to come home.
When Jesus first told the Parable of the Prodigal Son, it was while he was spending time with tax collectors and other sinners who were coming near to listen to his teaching. So we can imagine as he told this story, that some of his listeners would have heard it as good news. They could see themselves in the role of the younger brother who had messed up and done wrong things, and they were assured of God’s forgiving love for them.
But likely Jesus was primarily telling the story for the benefit of the Pharisees and the scribes who were also hanging around him. They were the religious people who were watching what Jesus was doing, and who were grumbling and criticizing his choice of company. “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them,” they were complaining.
Essentially, Jesus replies, “Yes, I do welcome them. And your scoffing isn’t going to change my mind or my ways. If you want to follow God, you should join me and learn how God really feels about people who’ve made mistakes.”
I don’t know if the Pharisees stayed long enough to listen to the whole story. But if they did, they would not have seen themselves in the role of the younger brother who went off and wasted his inheritance. Instead, they probably would have related to the elder brother who stayed home, and who then grumbled and complained when his father threw a party for the Prodigal Son.
When the elder brother refuses to come in to the celebration, the father comes out and pleads 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.”
A couple of things strike me in this wonderful story. First, there is the fact that when the elder brother gets angry and refuses to come in, the father goes out to find him and talk to him. It’s not just the Prodigal Son who is precious to the parent. It’s each and every child that God goes after to find and welcome home.
Just like the shepherd who left the 99 sheep to search for one that was lost, the father leaves the party to find his beloved son who is wandering off in anger and resentment.
The other thing that strikes me about the story is that it’s not just about the relationship between a father and a son. It’s a story about a whole household, a whole family. The father’s love is wide enough to embrace his Prodigal Son with grace, but the celebration is muted by the refusal of the elder brother to extend the same forgiveness and welcome.
And I understand how he feels. He’s the one who has been hurt so deeply by his brother’s departure, and by his squandering of the family’s resources. And I didn’t hear an apology. I didn’t notice him acknowledging his mistakes to his brother or asking him for forgiveness.
Instead, the father asks his elder son to step up and love his brother as the father loves him. He invites him to see his brother as the father sees him – as precious, beloved, lost but now found, dead but now alive again.
And I think that when we talk about reconciliation during this Season of Lent, we need to remember two aspects of reconciliation.
In a sense, the reconciliation with God is the easy part. All we need to do is realize, like the Prodigal Son when he “came to himself” that God loves us unconditionally and stands ready to welcome us home. No matter what we’ve done, no matter where we’ve wandered, we are welcomed home by God with a joyful celebration and a new beginning.
But we are part of a household too. We have siblings and neighbours that we have hurt through our intentional acts, our neglect, and our selfishness.
When I think about the way Indigenous Elders teach us about the concept of “all my relations” which includes other people, animals, plants, and the Earth itself, it is hard to brush away the truth that my sins have done harm to my relations, and reconciliation is sorely needed – not only with the Creator, but with my relatives within the household of God.
In a similar way, my siblings have hurt me at times also. And God, who loves and forgives them unconditionally, is asking me to open my eyes and see them as God sees them. God is pleading with me to open my heart to forgive them as God forgives them.
This is the hard work of reconciliation that we are called to engage in as Christians, perhaps especially during this Season of Lent as we prepare for the celebration of the Resurrection.
I wonder if there is a relationship in your life where reconciliation is needed – where God is pleading with you to let go of your anger and resentment and come in to the party.
Or perhaps where God is leading you to go out to the field – to make things right with your relative who has been injured by what you have done.
In his 2nd letter to the Church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul invites Christians to regard no one from a human point of view. We are to look at one another with God’s eyes, seeing beyond appearances, beyond history, beyond past mistakes and present failures – to see the beloved children that God sees in each one of us.
Paul reminds us of God’s amazing grace and forgiveness – that God has “reconciled us to himself through Christ.” And then he goes on to say that God “has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”
God is just like the father in the parable, running out to welcome a lost child home, going out to plead with another to rejoin the family, and showing us what it looks like to love one another and be reconciled.
It looks like a family celebrating together with all the relations gathered. It looks like a new creation where everything old has passed away, and everything has become new!
Lent is not a time for anger, resentment, suffering, or sadness to endure. It is a time for welcoming home, and joining the celebration because God loves us all, and God made us to love all our relations in the household of God. Let’s join the party!