Heading into Sunday, I knew I was wanting to pick something from the Gospel of Luke as the launching pad for our Education for Ministry group to use as the starting point for a theological reflection. Year Two had just finished reading the Gospel according to Luke, and Years One and Three would not be totally unfamiliar with the contents. My week had been so busy and hectic that I didn't have time to see what the lectionary had in store for Sunday. So, how fortuitous that the Gospel lesson just happened to be the parable of the prodigal son.
Separate from my group, I did my own theological reflection as I listened with my very lesbian ears to the oh, so familiar parable. It started with the criticism of Jesus for eating with--ahem--sinners. The unclean. The outsiders. The untouchables. These were all the type of company Jesus liked to keep, and the holier-than-thous of his day were aghast. This is actually what prompts Jesus to tell a series of parables about various lost and founds, but our lectionary diviners decided to spare the deacons a longer passage than what the prodigal already provided. As many times as I have heard the story (we even used it at my dad's funeral), I found myself deeply moved by the narrative of a son who goes off, blows all of his inheritance, ends up lost and lowly when he decides the only thing to be done is to return home to his father, and beg to be treated as a hired hand instead of a son. The father, upon seeing his younger son and without hesitation, runs to greet him and insists on having a huge party to celebrate this lost one. Meanwhile, the older and loyal son who never once did anything to disgrace his father hears all the hub bub and asks, 'What's all this then?' When he hears that the younger son returned and that everyone is celebrating this particular sinner, he fumes. The father goes out to meet him and the older son rails and complains about the party. The father, unfazed, listens intently and lovingly reminds the older son that he hasn't forgotten all that the older has been and done. But--c'mon, son--let's celebrate the return of our lost one. The story ends there. We don't know if the older son ever comes around to seeing the joy in the face of his father.
I mentioned that my lesbian ears were hearing this story, and unlike previous times, I found myself connecting the introduction of what inspired Jesus to tell this parable (the complaining people about him eating with sinners) to the response of the older son to the party his dad threw for his wayward younger sibiling. The "How dare you?!" response is one that felt very much like what is happening in the Anglican Communion at the moment with the insistence that The Episcopal Church be punished for having the audacity to love those whom the world despises namely it's LGBTQ members. The protest and posturing against my particular kind and my church has been painful to witness, and the lengths to which some have gone, with reports and covenants and any way possible to turn a religion of love and welcome into one of law and "right thinking only" has left me puzzled. Much in the same way I think the father in this parable must have felt initially at his oldest son's pouting. And the father reminds the oldest son that by celebrating the youngest doesn't mean that the father loves the oldest any less; in fact, how much more could he love him since he knows that the oldest has been with him the whole time? And, as the father notes, we have reason to rejoice because the one who left has come back and our family has been restored to its threesome. Similarly, at a time when the skepticism about religion in general and Christianity specifically is on a meteoric climb, we should rejoice and be glad in those moments when the lost and those who had rejected the church or felt unwelcomed and excluded dare to cross the threshold of the red doors to come in on a Sunday morning. To complain that this has somehow demeans God or the Anglican Communion is churlish. And I think that's what Jesus was driving at with his nattering naysaying audience. To criticize him for hanging with "the wrong kind" of people was the type of mean-spirited and judgmental behavior that would guarantee that the love of God would not be spread, and definitely would not reach those who could stand to come into its embrace.
While the younger brother may have sinned by demanding his inheritance and then squandering it on living the high-life, the older brother is committing a sin of failing to see the blessing his father had already bestowed by loving him and giving him all that he had year-in and year-out. Celebrating the return and reconciliation of the lost one should be a joyous occasion. And it's that joy manifested in us that will spread the love of God to the people who are still searching to find their way home.