The Prodigal Father

31 March 2019 – Fourth Sunday in Lent

A movie that speaks to the Christian feast is Places in the Heart, starring Sally Fields. It tells the story of Edna Spalding, a woman trying to make a go of it on a cotton farm in Waxahachie, Texas during the depths of the depression. After a drunken gunman accidentally kills her husband, she is left with two small children. Help comes in the form of Mose, an out-of- work black man, looking for food. She gives him a place to stay. But much is against her. The banker refuses to renegotiate her mortgage. A tornado hits. The bottom falls out of the cotton market. The Ku Klux Klan beats up Mose. . .

The last scene of the movie is the Lord’s Supper. Everyone we have met in the movie is gathered in the church: those for her and those against her, those living and those dead. . . her children and Mose and the blind man. . . the banker and members of the KKK. . . her dead husband.

They all partake of the meal, the sinners on earth and the saints in heaven. . . The party is on. The joy is great. –– Fritz West

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

The father who goes out to the Prodigal while he is still far off goes out also to the elder son, who will not go in to the party the father has laid on for the prodigal and his ne’er-do-well friends. . . .

But there’s a mistake here, in the speech of this angry Pharisee of an elder brother. It is good to stay on the father’s side of the line. As he says to this son of his, “all that is mine is yours.” But obedience to the father’s will is not about the one who obeys. It’s not about my friends. It’s not about me. This party is in honor of the father.

The father simply gives reconciliation to the younger son as an act of grace. The son accepts; he accepts being found, being newly alive in a new creation; he is reconciled! Joy is the emotion of repentance and reconciliation.

Yet this father will leave the party to seek his elder son: he calls him “child” and calls the Prodigal “this brother of yours” (v 32). And the question is: What will the elder son, the obedient, hardworking, church-going one choose? He has already been given all that the father had. He was also invited to the great banquet. Will he choose to reject the invitation and stay out in the cold hell of the veranda while the music and feasting goes on inside? Will he continue to regard “this son of yours” from a human point of view? Or will he get off the porch and be reconciled, and join in the dance with his brother? –– Paul G. Bieber

Joshua 5:9-12

God provided food for the wanderers until they entered the promised land and could eat of their own crops. When the forty-year journey is ended, the people are home where they are no longer dependent on the sheer mercy of God’s gifts but fuse that continued compassion with the fruits of their own labor, the “crops of the land of Canaan.” A new life begins. –– Melinda Quivik

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Paul speaks of the new creation in Christ: “everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” Is this a difficult transition to make in our lives? . . . when we see it happen in someone else? –– Michelle M. Hargrave

Paul Bieber is pastor of All Saints Lutheran Church, San Diego, California.

Michelle Hargrave is the pastor of the United Methodist Centenary Church in Mankato, Minnesota.

Melinda A. Quivik, an ELCA pastor and former professor of liturgy and homiletics, is the Editor-in-Chief of Liturgy. Her most recent book is Remembering God’s Promises: A Funeral Planning Handbook (Augsburg Fortress, 2018).

Fritz West, a liturgical author and retired pastor of the United Church of Christ living in Minnesota, serves as the Presiding Member of the Association for Reformed & Liturgical Worship Steering Committee.

Homily Service 40, no. 4 (2007): 23-32.

David Turnbloom