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     This Week's Focus: "The Beloved"
           Click the link for Luke 15:1-3, 11-32  

 


















 


Dear Friends,

Long before he was a big-time loser, the Prodigal Son was a big-time user. He played cruelly on his father’s affections to bend the rules, to jump the line, to claim a portion of the family fortune and then to blow it all on a binge. He starts out in a righteous home and ends up in a pig sty, by way of the fleshpots. Good riddance to bad rubbish. Serves him right. At least that’s the lesson we would expect from a classic morality tale. That’s the way Aesop would have told the story. But not Jesus.

Because whether he was using or losing, only one thing about the Prodigal remained constant. He was The Beloved. He was born and raised in love. He abused it and strayed from it. He squandered it and returned broken and sorrowful; begging at best for some miserable scrap of mercy. But that’s not what he found.

He walked right back into unbounded love… not a grudging acceptance or a plea bargain, not even tough love with lots of strings attached. His father ran joyfully to meet him, to embrace him… to love and forgive him.

In these few familiar lines in Luke, Jesus explains the nature of God and our relationship with him. God is the wellspring of love. And we are his Beloved. He loves each one of us in our falls and resurrections. He loves us in the brothel or in the pig sty. He rejoices when we turn to him whatever our condition.

How many times have we acted out this story in our own lives… if not on this dramatic scale, then repeatedly in squalid microcosm? How many times in so many petty ways have we turned from God only to come slinking back… broken and discouraged? In the tale of the Prodigal, Jesus guarantees us what we can expect from the Father: Total love… boundless joy… divine mercy.

In the frequent telling of this story, emphasis has rightly concentrated on the repentance of the Prodigal and the forgiveness of the Father. More contemporary reflections also explore Christ’s intimate understanding of human nature in what he tells us about the first-born, faithful son.

To all appearances, the Prodigal Son and the faithful son are two distinct individuals. But real life is often more complicated than that. At different times in our lives, we can find ourselves cast in either role. And how seamlessly we can flip from asking forgiveness for ourselves to denying forgiveness for others.

So, there is a double lesson in this parable. We are not only loved, but we are meant to love. We are not only forgiven, we are meant to forgive. This is the perfect message for the middle of Lent. While we seek mercy, we must never forget to be merciful.

The audiences for Christ’s parables are often cast into two distinct groups: the sinners and the sanctimonious… either tax collectors or Pharisees… either the prodigal or the proud. On any given day, depending on the circumstances, any one of us could land in either camp. That is why the conclusion of this parable is so telling.

The prodigal younger son is repentant. He is forgiven by his loving father. But the righteous older son is resentful. While his father acknowledges his virtue and his position as heir to the family fortune, he asks him to be merciful to his brother. And that is where the matter rests. We are left to fill in the rest of the story… to take the message to heart… to write our own happy ending.

In imitation of the Father, the faithful are meant to forgive the foolish. Even in their sins, our brothers and sisters are the Father’s Beloved. They must be our Beloved, too. It is a tall order, but one we are charged to work at every day.

God’s love is the power that put the Universe in motion. Yet it is available to the least of us just for the asking. When we embrace God’s love, we get a special grace that tells us to share it… to pass it along… to be forgiven and forgiving.

That is what it means to be The Beloved.

God love you!


 

A Reflection for 
The Fourth Sunday in Lent
©The Reverend Canon David F. Sellery

 
Copyright © 2019 David Sellery, All rights reserved.


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