Luke 15: 11-32
Seventeenth Day after Pentecost
TEXT: "He ran (to the boy) and put his arms around him and kissed him"
Human families set mankind apart from all other living creatures. Who else but human parents have children they can call their own for longer than it takes to set them on their feet or on their way? Even the most "affectionate" animals -- the vixen, the bear, the lioness -- teach their cubs to make their own way in the world and then forget them. After the eagle has taught her eaglet to fly, she will see it no more. Calf, colt, grasshopper, dragonfly -- all go their separate ways as soon as they can. Only humans stand with their children from first to last, from birth to death. In other words, only the society of humanity is held together by the bond of love.
Christian love means to be concerned enough about the other person to see the good that is there, and to want it to come out.
Christian love means not to want to shape the other person in your image, but to rejoice in His or her uniqueness. It is not a manipulative love. It is a love of surrender. It is a reconciling love.
A father and son enjoyed visiting art galleries together, even though they couldn't afford to buy any of the paintings on display. On one occasion, the father was totally mesmerized by a certain painting and, to his surprise, he was able to purchase it at a very cheap price. Neither he nor the seller realized that the painting was the work of the great French Impressionist, Monet. Not until many years later did the father discover that the painting he had hung over the fireplace was worth millions.
At age twenty-seven the son was recruited by the U.S. Army, was sent to Vietnam and, within weeks was killed in action. Earlier, a fellow soldier had drawn a crude portrait of him which he sent to the grieving father. When it arrived, the father removed the Monet from above the fireplace and replaced it with his son's portrait.
When the father died, the son's portrait and the Monet both were to be sold at auction in accordance with his instructions. At auction time, the auctioneer placed them side-by-side, pointed to the son's portrait and asked, "How much am I bid?" At first, there were no bids, then someone called out, "I bid ten dollars." "Sold for ten dollars," said the auctioneer who then went on to put pieces of antique furniture up for sale. However, most in the audience were serious art collectors who had come to bid on the Monet, "What about the Monet?" they demanded. It was then they learned that the father's Last Will and Testament decreed that both pieces of art were to be auctioned off as one, and the high-bidder for his son's portrait would also get the Monet.
Today's Gospel Lesson includes what is perhaps the most enduring unconditional love story of all time: Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son.
In the first part of the story, Jesus is saying God never stops loving the person who runs off and wastes the life and the Grace he or she has received. And when that person, boy or girl, man or woman, turns and comes home again, there is the Father's love just being poured out as usual. The imagery Jesus uses -- the reunion of father and son, the celebration, the preparation of the fatted calf for the big feast -- is very dramatic and very moving. Especially moving is the scene Jesus describes when the father and son are reunited and reconciled. The father “ran to the boy, put his arms around him and kissed him” (Lk. 15:20).
A mother wrote to her Pastor, explaining that until recently, she didn't know what love was, despite the hundreds of sermons she had listened to over the years. This mother had been reared in the highest echelons of society in a southern U.S. city. She was very active in the Church, always on the right committees and in the right places and everything was just right. And she really believed she was a Christian. "But," she wrote ...
"I had a problem. My daughter had been giving me a lot of trouble. She learned how to say 'No' at a very early age and just kept on saying it. This didn't fit into my way of life. It disrupted my comfortable routine and I began to resent my own daughter. This became obvious to her until, finally, she ran away from home. The note she left said, 'It's very obvious, mother, that you don't love me and it would be better for both of us if I go away.'
"My world collapsed. At first, out of sheer humiliation, that I, a prominent society person and a prominent Church woman should have her daughter leave home under such circumstances. Then the humiliation gave way to a deep sense of despair when I finally became honest enough to say to myself, 'I don't love my daughter. I don't even love myself.' And I just had to get down on my knees and somehow begin this whole business of being a Christian over again from scratch.
"And the words I'd been hearing all of my life about God's love and about Grace and forgiveness and reconciliation, suddenly grasped me for the first time, and my whole life changed, from inside out. And when I found my daughter, the reconciliation began. Not only that, but my relationship with my husband, my relationship with my other children, my relationship to the Church, everything was different."
This is what the Apostle Paul was so concerned about when he wrote his letter to the Galatians. They had heard the Gospel preached but it was apparent that it was not making a real difference in their lives. They were "keeping the faith" on a very superficial level, in their Church-going and in their show of allegiance to the Law. But they had not been grasped by the Grace of God's love at a level deep enough to make a real difference in their lives and in their relationships. Paul, therefore, says to them: "Out of love, place yourselves at one another's service. The whole law has found its fulfillment in this one saying: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' If you go on biting and tearing one another to pieces, take care! You will end up in mutual destruction!" (Gal. 5:13-15). We need to stop talking and singing about God's Grace long enough to start living in it. We need to immerse ourselves in this love of God. We need to become evermore aware that God's Love is deep within us and at this very moment a miracle can occur.
Those of you who have been hearing this all your lives at one level will hear it now at a deeper level and at a new level. Now!
Because God is here, God is present, God's Grace -- the Grace of reconciliation -- is in you.
From time-to-time we would all do well to get down on our knees, position ourselves before God, and begin this whole business of being a Christian all over again, starting from scratch.