The Bathroom Theologian. The Prodigal Son is probably the most famous of the Gospel parables. As a lawyer, every time I hear it, what comes to mind is those people were in my office yesterday afternoon. Families fighting over money is as old as old can be. Today, the story goes something like this. Mom and Dad had a bunch of children. All but one has moved away from the community. The sibling who stays behind has to take care of Mom and Dad as they get older. Finally, as Mom and Dad near the end of their days, the whole family shows up and tries to take control…and wondering how much money the sibling who stayed home acting as the caregiver stole from their beloved parents. Over and over and over again.
Jesus’ parable is somewhat different, but the result is still the same. The brother who stayed behind gets angry when the father throws a party for the son who left, squandered his share of the family fortune, and returns broke. The moral is so clear it is almost cliché. God loves those who stay with Him throughout their lives, but also loves those who were lost and find their way home. God’s love abounds. There is plenteous redemption for all. I once was lost, but now I’m found.
The holy side of the parable is wonderful and is to be cherished. It has a theme that is repeated numerous times in the Bible whether it is the shepherd leaving the flock to look for the lost sheep or the woman looking for the lost coin. God is always looking for those who strayed.
How do we translate the parable into secular real life? Take God out of the story, the moral still remains. In real life, loving those who have wronged us is hard work, almost impossible. It is even tougher when it is family with years of history. Some of it good. Much of it bad. Those of us who come from feuding families understand how difficult it is. Add money to the mix, watch out.
The parable also teaches us money is nice, but it is passing. As my Aunt Josephine used to say…a shroud has no pockets. It is love that matters in the end. I have had many disagreements with family members, often time resulting in my not talking to them for years. But as I approach the beginning of my senior years, reconnecting with those members of my family has been a more than satisfying experience…no matter how tenuous. They are my family. It’s good to know that I can call them up and say hello. I am grateful they are back in my life. I hope they are grateful I am back in theirs.
So as God welcomes and celebrates those who left Him; as the father welcomes and celebrates his wayward son, this Lenten season open your hearts to welcome back into your life those from you are separated…family or friend. It will make for a satisfying Lent.