The readings for this week are here. (I’m not sure why, but the main NAB site offers a choice of Liturgical Year A or C for today; Googling around has not provided a clear answer as to which cycle we’re in or why both would be made available… Anyone who has some insight into this, please let me know in the comments!)
“Then he said, ‘A man had two sons…'”
I received an onslaught of inquiries last week (okay, one email) about why there was no Sunday Sermon. So this week I’d like to personally apologize to both of my readers for my truancy. I was out of town all weekend, and after my annual tradition of losing the Oscar pool I just didn’t have the energy to get preachy. However!
This week is a different story. Flushed with the ecstasy of failure, thrilling to the sound of defeat, I now sport a devil-may-care attitude which will no doubt squander countless friendships and make a mockery of all that is decent in society.
I am, indeed, the Prodigal Son.
Then they understood that he was not
telling them to beware of the
leaven of bread, but of the teaching
of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
The Prodigal Son is, of course, the story Luke tells us Jesus told the Pharisees, which Wikipedia tells me were “at various times a political party, a social movement, or a school of thought among Jews that flourished during the Second Temple Era (536 BCE–70 CE).” Rather than talk too much about a subject on which I’m almost certainly misinformed, I’ll let you know that the Pharisees were quite pious and that Jesus (in Matthew, at least) didn’t like them very much.
When he had freely spent everything,
a severe famine struck that country,
and he found himself in dire need.”
The story of the Prodigal Son is about two brothers; the youngest is basically a trustafarian who runs off to a foreign land and fritters away his inheritance on cheap women and fast camels. Eventually, of course, the money runs out and he’s forced to get a job taking care of pigs (which I imagine is the BCE-equivalent of washing dishes at Red Robin).
One day as he’s watching the pigs eat, clutching his empty stomach (or scraping half-eaten orders of steak fries into the garbage and spraying huge globs of Ranch dressing off a plate), he thinks to himself: “Wait a minute. What the fuck am I doing here? I could be at home, working for my father. He has pigs that need taking care of, same as anyone. But at least he’ll give me a little something to eat!”
So he resolves to go home, apologize for being a total bastard, and beg his father’s forgiveness.
I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him,
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you…'”
But what happens when he returns? Does his father make him sleep in the truck camper? NO! His father embraces him and offers to kill a fatted calf in celebration of his return (which I imagine is like taking the family out to the Olive Garden).
He said to him, ‘My son,
you are here with me always;
everything I have is yours…'”
His older brother is obviously not so happy about this. “What the hell, Dad?” he asks. “I’m busting my hump for you every day, dawn ’til dusk, and you’ve never even bought me a sandwich! Suddenly Mr. Spends-A-Lot comes home and we’re going to Olive Garden? What gives?”
To which his father replies, “What can you do? I missed him!”
What can you do?
I’ve encountered a lot of rejection, lately. In the past two weeks I’ve gotten thin paper envelopes from three of the four MFA programs I applied to last year. What this means for me practically is that instead of getting to go back to school and be a student for a few more years, thereby delaying that growing-up-and-getting-a-real-job moment just a little longer, I will be forced to take on full-time work when my Prodigal Son money runs out this October.
Anyone who’s ever experienced rejection knows what it feels like emotionally.
However, I’m inspired by the old man’s equanimity in this story. He knows he is at fault, at least in his younger son’s eyes, and he doesn’t try to deny or dismiss his younger son’s feelings in any way. He doesn’t, for instance, say “What about that time I made burgers?” or “You never did the pig slop right anyway, you ungrateful little shit!”
The story is told as a way of explaining why the angels take particular delight in the repentance of sinners, and why Jesus himself “welcomed sinners and ate with them.” It is easy to push away our failures or our imperfections. It is so much more refreshing to embrace them.
So I’m not good enough for the MFA programs. What can you do?
I missed him!
As we near the end of the Lenten season, I feel my spirits lifting with the rejuvenatory power of Spring. Last year around this time I spent a wonderful week at a Zen retreat, during which I had the opportunity to kneel beside a gentle soul who shares my mother’s name and pull up weeds. It was part of the samu, or work-meditation, and so was performed mostly in silence.
I remember vividly the simple thrill I felt, gripping tiny grasslings by their roots! The soft, cool feel of earth on the fingertips. The memories it stirred in me, of doing the same work at my mother’s side when I was so much smaller and less confused about the world. What a wonderful metaphor for cleaning out the psyche!
The message of this sermon, then, is love. The love of a father for his Prodigal Son, which is unashamed; the love of the Prodigal Son for his father, which is full of humility; and the love of God for both of them, for you, for me, for every scurrying creature the world over — which is infinite.