A Story I Just Can't Shake

Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Gospel Reading for Fourth Sunday of Lent (Year C)

I see it in my head a thousand different ways. In the front yard of a suburban house. In a crowded airport terminal. On a dusty road in Palestine. In broad daylight. In driving rain. A son or a daughter is almost home. They've walked a long way. They have hitchhiked. They have ridden dirty buses across the country or have flown on tickets given with the explanation "If you ever want to come back..."

The lost child looks up and sometimes they see their dad. Sometimes it's their mom or both parents. But the one thing that never changes is how that parent is advancing toward their long lost child. They are sprinting; running as fast as they absolutely can. It's a run of reckless abandon. There is no sense of decorum or dignity. It is the run of a child. Arms and legs at angles trying to make the distance disappear as quickly as possible. When the parent reaches the child, they nearly tackle them in embrace.

The Parable of the Lost Son is etched on my DNA. It always has been. I find myself thinking of the passage quite a bit. I have preached sermons on those verses in Luke. I have written short stories about it. I can think of nearly a handful of dramas I have written about it. When I hear "Fix You," I think of the Prodigal Son. When I hear "The Dog Days Are Over," it's the soundtrack of a child coming home. I see echoes of the story all over the place.

I don't know why the parable is so near and dear to my heart. My story is not exactly one of a prodigal. This isn't to say that I haven't messed up or strayed. I have messed up and squandered many a gift given to me. Yet I haven't really wandered far from my spiritual "home." Even as my faith has evolved over these past few years, I have never felt like I have left.

Honestly, I am probably some combination of both sons. Even though we often call this passage the Parable of the Prodigal Son, each of them was lost in their own way. But really the story is not about how I fit in where. The beating heart of the story is not either son. It is the father. It's that run. The embrace. The way that he won't even let his son finish the rehearsed speech. It is love and grace and forgiveness and joy that builds with every stride towards the child he thought was once dead. It's the way he comes out and talks to child grousing outside the party.

That is why I cannot shake this story. It embodies the exuberant grace of God. I just marvel at that idea. That God could love so completely creatures that rebel and hurt in the ways in which we do. That God would sprint across the countryside and embrace us. It all comes back to that run. The wild delight. The love that is more powerful than a dam bursting. I guess that is why I keep coming back to Luke 15; why I suspect I'll always come back.

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