The Fourth Sunday in Lent C – March 6, 2016 – “Welcome Home”
The parable of the lost son and brother is one of the most popular stories in the New Testament. It appears only in Luke’s gospel and comes after fables about the lost sheep (15:1-7) and the lost coin (15:8-10). They are sequences to Jesus’ preamble about the cost of discipleship (14:25-33) — that is, what does our membership in the body of Christ ask of us?
Most often sermons on this parable focus on the young son who left home or the angry son who stayed home or the father who loved them both. The story offers lenses about the generosity of God, how God does not abandon us no matter how much we mess up or lose sight of our purpose in life. The story is also an invitation to see things in a new way or to challenge worn out assumptions.
Nowhere does the story about the prodigal son tell us why the younger brother left home in the first place. This question offers us a chance to look at this parable in a new light. Here are a couple of real time examples. The United Nations reported at the end of 2014, 20 million people around the world fled their homes because of persecution. Another 38 million were displaced by conflict within their homelands. How will these persons ever taste and see the goodness of God? (Psalm 34)
The prophet Joshua announced God freed the Israelites from slavery and guided them to a home of their own and they were fed along the way.
Our country and innumerable organizations in it like the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants are known for finding ways to assist those who have left or lost their homes, uprooted by choice or force.
And, there are families and youths right here in our own country for whom “home” is not easily defined. A 2006 study at the University of Pittsburgh said 60,000 allegations of child maltreatment, including reports of neglect, and physical, sexual, and psychological abuse are reported each week! The average age of a homeless person in the U.S. is nine. Thousands of youths are abandoned or purposely trafficked every year.
In a recent lecture at the College of St. Rose a former prostitute said the average age that girls become escorts is between 13 and 14. She said she never felt loved or even heard the words “I love you” while she lived at home so she left.
Countless youths live with pressures and conflicts at home, in school and among peers. Many are victims of bullying. Often they do not know how or where to get help. Some question their identity or reason for being. Many run away. Few are found again. The National Runaway Switchboard reports that on any given night there are about 1.3 million homeless youths living unsupervised on the streets of our cities.
The good news is that there are myriad examples of adults who adopt very young children who have been abandoned and older children who leave home for other reasons. One teenager from our parish wrote that without her new parents, who adopted her when she was ten months old, she would not be an athlete, she would not be educated, she would not be given even a fraction of the opportunity that she is provided with today.
Many young people return home because they cannot make it on their own and need the security of an established household. We can only conjecture about the details in the gospel parable. Did the traumatized father throw the party as an act of parental remorse? Did the son say I am sorry or thank you? Did big brother ever get over his jealousy? What we do know is there is no mention of sin or penance in this story, only love, mercy and healing.
So, what does it mean to be a member of the body of Christ? Paul in his letter to the Corinthians suggests we are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation. (2 Cor 5) Parishioner Amy Biancolli uses more convincing language in an article on pursuing peace. “God deputizes us to bring peace to each other. It is our “assignment” she wrote.
On the old church calendar today was called Laetare Sunday — a day to rejoice and take a little break from the challenges of the Lenten season. Let’s do that. And, let’s use this day to rethink what the word “home” means to each of us and to those with whom we share a home. And one more thing, how might you and I help others find one?