Jesus Our Shepherd
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
4th Sunday In Lent

The tax collectors and the sinners were all gathering around Jesus to listen to his teaching, at which the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, “This one welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus addressed the following parable to them:

“A man had two children. The younger said to their father, ‘Give me my share of the estate that is coming to me.’ So the father divided up the estate. Some days later, the younger son gathered up his belongings and set off to a distant land. Here he squandered all his money and inheritance on loose living. After everything was spent, a great famine broke over the land. Everyone, including the son, was in great need. So the son went to a landowner, who in turn sent him to his farm to take care of his pigs. The son longed to eat the husks that were fodder for the pigs; but no one made any move to give him any. At last coming to his senses, the son thought: ‘How many hired hands at my father’s house have more than enough to eat, while here I am starving! I will go back home and say, “I have sinned against God and against you. I no longer deserve to be called one of your children. Treat me like one of your hired hands.”

“With that in mind, this younger son began his journey homewards. While he was still a long ways distant, his father caught sight of his returning child and was deeply moved. He ran out to meet his son, threw his arms around him, and kissed him. Then his son said to him, ‘I have sinned against God and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your child.’ But the faith said to one of his hired hands, ‘Quick, bring out the finest robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet. Take the fatted calf and kill it! We are celebrating because this son of mine was dead and has now come back to life; he was lost ands now is found.’ Then the celebration began.

“Meanwhile the elder son was working the land. Nearing the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called a hired hand over and asked, ‘What is the reason for all this dancing and music?’ The hired hand responded, ‘Your brother is back home, and the fatted calf has been killed because your father has him back in good health.’ The son became angry at this and would not join the party. So his father came out and began to plead with him. But the elder son replied, ‘For years now I have worked for you. I never disobeyed any of your orders. Yet you never gave me so much as a kid goat to celebrate with my friends. Then when this other one returns after having gone through your property with prostitutes, you kill the fatted calf for him.’

“The father then responded, ‘My beloved, you are always in my heart. Everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice! This brother of yours was dead, and has come back to life. He was lost and now is found.’” The Good News of Salvation!

Homily for 21 March 2004
Rev. Jim Ryan

Several months after I moved to eastern Kentucky I began to understand the statement, “You can’t get there from here.” In the gnarled, woody, winding, hollow-stopping roads and pathways of southern Appalachia a person trying to apply Midwestern straight grids for roads winds up hopelessly lost. You truly cannot get there from here, you must first go someplace else and go from there. Then you will wind up there.

To say that the story of the Prodigal Son and the Loving Father is remarkable is true. To realize that it is incredible that it survived the early filters of the New Testament writers can be a life transforming reality.

In institutional terms this very familiar story reminds us that we are sinners and that we, like the prodigal, must turn from our sin and return contrite and self-blaming to our Father’s house.

In faith terms this story is about a parent who could care less about the past. Love moves the parent and child into new life and happiness. This confuses people and churches that want to emphasize sin and guilt.

If your understanding of God requires you to dwell in the past of your own sin and neglect then you will not become transformed through Love. You can’t get to the Love of God through such guilt. You can’t get there from here.

Read this story again and you see a parent who doesn’t give the child the chance to say the well rehearsed declaration of guild, shame and invitation to retribution. What you experience is the Love that lifts up life and gives it hope every step of the way.

You cannott get to the Love of God by claiming that persons who are not baptized will surely go to hell. You cannot get to the Love of God by forbidding people to receive communion at Mass. And you surely cannot discover the hopefulness of God’s love if you refuse to reverse the past and forgive for the sake of renewing your, or the other person’s, life.

This is the God experience and it is in all of us. This Lent must propel us into such awareness that the sin, forgiveness, and reconciliation we celebrate are only minor steps along the way to the fulfillment of God’s Love. Even death, the great leveler, cannot prevent us from getting there so long as the “here” we start at begins not with the sad and sinful child, but rather with the wide-open embracing, kissing parent.