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Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Love That Welcomes Images of God’s steadfast love and forgiveness emerge in the accounts of a father running out to welcome home a wayward son, and of a people feasting in their homeland after years of wandering. These stories prompt us to shout for joy, celebrating God’s bountiful mercy and committing ourselves to our own ministries of reconciliation. Luke 15:1–3, 11b–32 Chapter 15 of Luke reports Jesus’ response to Pharisees and scribes who grumble, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them” (verse 2). These critics were concerned that such breaking of bread implied Jesus’ full acceptance of these individuals. Jesus responds by telling three parables: the shepherd and the lost sheep (verses 4–7), the woman and the lost coin (verses 8–10), and the father who welcomes a son “who was lost and has been found” (verse 32). The third parable is often called The Prodigal Son. As the actual meaning of prodigal is “excessively extravagant” or “lavish,” perhaps a better title would be The Prodigal Father. A child who rejects family and wastes the family fortune is not news. Neither is a child who harbours resentment that a parent might forgive such a sibling. However, a parent who is willing to risk prestige and wealth to let a child leave the family and then extend forgiveness when life apart from family sours – this is news. It’s good news when we consider how this is a story about God’s nature. According to Jewish customs of the time, the younger of two sons would receive one-third of the estate at the time of the father’s death. In handing over the younger son’s portion of the inheritance, the father allows himself to be killed metaphorically. The younger son takes the fortune and lives as if his father were dead. Perhaps the most striking element of this story for Jesus’ original hearers would have been the image of a father running to meet his son. Men of wealth and position never ran in public and certainly never ran to someone who held a less honourable position. Also, the fatted calf ki1led at the son’s return would only have been prepared for a visiting dignitary or for the wedding of one’s child, both opportunities to demonstrate prestige in the community. The father discounts such honour in welcoming home the “lost” son. This father had powerful love for both the younger and the elder sons. Jesus speaks through this parable of God’s love for all, both the “sinners” and the Pharisees. Another joyous feast of reconciliation is described in Joshua 5:9–12. After forty years wandering in the wilderness, the people of Israel cross the Jordan and enter the land promised to them. God rolls away their “disgrace” as they join in the Passover meal. Their entry into the land is marked by the end of one kind of provision by God, manna, and the beginning of another, the produce of Canaan. We are not told what their relationship is to the Canaanites already in the land. Psalm 32 describes God in ways similar to the image of the prodigal father in the story from Luke. The psalmist writes of the joy of being reconciled with God and being wrapped in God’s steadfast, forgiving, embracing love. Paul calls us to regard others as God regards us: with love and forgiveness. In 2 Corinthians 5:16–21 we hear the call to take up the ministry of reconciliation, offering to others the reconciliation that God has extended to us and all creation. Nothing in God’s creation is ever so lost that it is beyond God’s finding. God seeks reconciliation with all, extending forgiveness and welcoming us to a place at the joyous feast. In what ways might our communities and the world be changed through our own ministries of reconciliation in Christ’s name?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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