Fourth Sunday of Lent | Micah Weedman
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
There is a statue at Duke Divinity School called Reconciliation, created by artist Margaret Adams Parker. The subject of the statue is the three folks we find in today’s Gospel reading from Luke: The father, the son-who-has-returned, and the son-who-never-left.
The statue captures the moment when the father, welcoming the repentant son, has to reach out to the older brother, the one whose anger is fired by his brother’s beloved reception. And in this moment, the artist has captured the heart of this Gospel passage.
I mention this artwork because my encounters with it have caused me to rethink the story of the prodigal son. The traditional reading of Luke 15—that we, the readers, are the prodigal sons welcomed from our wild ways by a loving Father—is appropriate, but in many ways, it stops short of the fullness of the story. For the artist is right: this is a story about reconciliation. Reconciliation is three-dimensional, and thus you can see each character from various perspectives. The angry brother helps us realize he is far more central to the story than perhaps he is often portrayed. Will he relent and welcome his brother and celebrate with his father? Will the errant brother reach out to him, apologize to him, and give him space to air his grievances? I am a brother and I have brothers; I know how tricky this can be.
Will the older brother continue in his anger and reject his brother (and thus, his father)? How will they react if he does? Will the family be torn apart? Will the older brother demand his inheritance and head off on his own? If so, will the younger brother feel guilt for this? Anger? Both?
We tend to think of Lent as a time of reflection on our own sins. Our current penchant for “giving up” “things” that are “bad for us” does much to perpetuate this reflection, of course. We use this time to focus on those things that separate us from God, or hinder our growth, or are unhealthy for us. But our Gospel passage reminds us that Lent is really about reconciliation. As Paul notes in 2 Corinthians, reconciliation is at the heart of God’s work in the world. Our preparation for Easter is nothing less than the kind of examination we wish the older brother had been able to do—to prepare our hearts and our spirits to welcome those who have gone astray, to accept the call to God’s reconciling work in this world and at this time.
So, give up chocolate if you must, and spend more time reading your Bible. But remember, all is for naught if we forget that reconciliation is three-dimensional.
Associate University Minister & Director of Outreach, Office of University Ministries