“A teacher had a class of second graders and he was teaching the story of the Prodigal Son and he asked them, ‘Now who was the happiest in this story?’ And one little boy said, ‘It must have been the prodigal who came back home and was received with love.’ Then the teacher said, ‘Now who do you think was the saddest one in the story?’ Another little boy raised his hand and said, ‘Must have been the fatted calf.’ The story of the lost son, the lost coin and the lost sheep. These are the images that Jesus uses today and there is a commonality between them. All have wandered away. All have left the home and the security of family and of father and have gone out for greener pastures and that is certainly true for the lost sheep who wandered away from the shepherd and from the flock. It is true also for the lost son who left his father and his home for greener pastures and we all know how that turned out and the lost coin, this was probably part of the bride-price or dowry that the wife received at her wedding and it was of course in coins and what they usually did was to connect the coins to each other to form a kind of veil that the bride would wear with joy and if she lost a coin from this veil then it was kind of like losing your wedding ring, so all were sorely missed, sorely missed and all were passionately, anxiously, looking for lost items that were so important to the owner.
Of course, Jesus is talking about sinners and we’re all sinners and at some time or another in our life we will be cut off or lost or strayed away, wandered away from home or family and cut ourselves off from the church. The second truth about all of these things is that God is passionately, dedicatedly looking for each one of us when we are gone. He wants us back and he’ll do anything to bring us back. He’s waiting for us to appear on the horizon and he will run out to greet us and he will shower us with his love and forgiveness. Now that’s a very consoling thought, the kind of God we have who loves us so much that he never will hate us. He will never exclude us. He will never want us gone. He’s so happy that we are with him, so joyful when we return to him. He is our God who loves us beyond measure. Now the way God treats us is also the way he wants us to treat one another and when you get angry at someone in your family or a close friend and there’s a separation, then God wants us to reconcile. He wants us to welcome back. He wants us to love as we loved before.
I have a true story, a number of years ago I was the elected pastoral leader of Johnson county region for the Church, for the priests and it was a time when the Kansas legislature was considering whether or not to approve or disapprove of capital punishment and the priests all discussed it and to a person we denounced it. We thought it was something that should not happen in Kansas. We thought that there were other ways to treat capital criminals, ways that were perhaps, life giving and so they asked me to write a letter to the editor of the Kansas City Star to that effect and I did. Well about a week later I received a letter back myself and it was from a lady who told me her story. She had an 18 year old son who was shot to death, murdered by a 19 year old and this 19 year old had been on drugs. So, this almost wiped out this lady almost. This son was so precious to her and she was so proud of him and what he had accomplished in his short life already and this was just a treasure taken from her. So, they caught the 19 year old and convicted him and put him in jail. The day after he was in prison, the lady went down to the prison and asked to speak to this young man face to face and they allowed it and so she tole this young man, ‘You have taken something from me that is more precious than I can ever express, but I forgive you. I forgive you from my heart and that lady stayed and talked to this young man. He didn’t know what to make of her, but she expressed that she hoped that he would turn out ok. And then the next week she showed up at the jail again and talked to this young man and week after week after week she said, ‘I did this.’ She said, ‘I sort of adopted him as my own.’ And then, years later after he had been paroled she went to him and said, ‘Come home with me.’ Because he had no one who would receive him from his own family. ‘Come home with me and live with me.’ And she took care of him and that young man got help for his addiction and he turned his life around. The prodigal son, this lady showed this young man how God loves us.
I have a little prayer I’d like to share with you. I entitled, ‘The Prodigal’.
O loving Father, O loving Lord
From you I’ve strayed and headed toward
that which is sinful, hurtful and crass
But you take me back forgiving the past.
I don’t deserve your forgiveness and love
Instead I merit shame and rebuff
But feasting, new clothes a ring to put on
You give with love to your prodigal son.
I lost my way, I was Hell bound
You never gave up and now I’m found
I know now what death is like
Because of your love, I am alive.
My brother disowns me
I understand, I left but he stayed to work on your land
His resentment of me seems only right
But him to forgiveness of me, you invite.
You love us both without reservation
Our failure to love is your only frustration
Your mercy and care will never cease
Your example of love is our pathway to peace.
Thank you dear Father, stay ever near
Teach us to put away hatred and fear
Show us that forgiveness is the only way
Guide us so mercy may fill us today.”