I must apologize for not maintaining this blog for quite a while. Due to weather, my own health and a conflict in scheduling, I have been unable to do Bible Study for a couple of weeks. Fortunately, we are back to a normal around here and were able to have a small study for this upcoming Sunday — the Prodigal Son.
I must preface this (as I prefaced the study) with the confession that I look forward to preaching on this parable every year, but not without a little trepidation. This is one of the most beautiful, beloved and bountiful pericopes in all of Scripture. It is so deep and so wide that it is intimidating to try and narrow one’s focus enough to do this passage justice in a sermon. The flip side of this coin, of course, is that I do not foresee a time when I run out of things to focus on.
We began our evening by briefly touching on the Epistle (1 Corinthians 6:12-20)
- St. Paul doesn’t pull any punches. He reminds us that we are members of the Body of Christ and that to commit adultery is to join Christ (ourselves as members of the Body) to prostitutes.
- This calls to mind the reality that the Prodigal Son finds himself in — he was a child of God the Father and united himself to “wasteful living.”
- There was some confusion over verse 13, where St. Paul reminds us that both food and our stomachs will be destroyed by God (in reminding us that eating anything we want is lawful, but not necessarily helpful, he reminds us of the usefulness of the Fast that we are about to undertake in the coming weeks). God will destroy both in that He will renew all of creation. The fallenness of the food and our bodies will be destroyed.
We spent the rest of the evening focusing on the Gospel Reading (Luke 15:11-32)
- We prefaced this study with the knowledge that the hymns of the Church very clearly identify us with the Prodigal Son.
- We briefly touched on the importance of the Prodigal coming to himself. We are not created to be separated from God. Our proper place is to be with God — even as a servant.
- We also noted that while the Father killed the fatted calf (something that takes time to prepare — it must be nurtured, cared for, fed and protected), the elder son asks for a young goat — something that takes little time to prepare in comparison to the fatted calf. Even when we are in the arms of the Father, we can still be tempted by the instant gratification that drew the Prodigal away from the Father.
We spent a lot of time with the image of the Prodigal working in the fields with swine.
- As a Jew, working to raise and feed swine is a fool’s errand. He cannot eat the food he is caring for.
- This is a natural outcome of a life separated from God. Everything we try to do sans God will eventually decay, collapse and disappear from the world. We may have some apparently good times, but the famine will eventually come.
- The Prodigal finds himself in a situation where the pigs are of more value than he is — though he would be willing to eat pig slop, no one gives him any. There are many places in our own culture where animals, objects and lifestyles are valued more than human life. There are strains of environmentalism that place the life of an animal above a human being. Much of the pro-choice movement is predicated on valuing a type of lifestyle for women over the life of the unborn.
We also spent some time mediating on the words of the Father, “your brother was dead, and is alive.”
- It is possible to be dead, though we live. Expending the kind of time and energy that the Prodigal does in fruitless labor (caring for swine) is a kind of living death. Where do we invest our time, our treasure and our talents? If we are busying ourselves with selfish things, we are living in the pig sty with the Prodigal. We are busying ourselves with a living death. Rather, we should be investing in the Kingdom, endeavoring to see that our time, treasure and talents are aimed at doing those things God wants us to do and be.
- God is the Giver of Life. When we separate ourselves from Him, we embrace death.
- The Father wants us to live. He is constantly watching out for our return. There is no watchmen at the gate. There is no messenger looking for the Prodigal to ask him to come back. It is the Father Himself looking towards the horizon.
- When the Father sees his son, he runs. In the Middle East it is shameful for old men to run, yet the Father does. This calls to mind the shame of the Cross. This is how far God is willing to go in order to give us life.
- The Prodigal comes to the Father in humility, asking only to be a servant. The reward for this humility is a seat at the table where a feast with a fatted calf is prepared. In context of our own life, the banquet prepared for us is the liturgy, and the fatted calf is the Body and Blood of Christ.