theunfamiliarname

Homily for Lent 4C

In Uncategorized on March 12, 2010 at 9:56 pm

The story of the prodigal son.
It’s one of those instantly recognisable parables Jesus used.
And parables are so powerful,
because they are not spelled out for us:
they do need us to connect up the dots.
Stories need us to invest ourselves in them.

Stories make us find our place within them.
So this one begs the question:  where are we?

It begs another question on this Mothering Sunday,  …where’s Mum?
It’s a family story without a female in sight.

Simply put, Mum’s not visible.
Which, while culturally and historically understandable,
is a bit of a failing for our image of God.

But all is not lost.
Dad in the story of the prodigal son holds a lot
of what we would expect to see in Mum.
Dad in this story gets us beyond gender stereotypes –
This is a figure who rushes forward, who embraces and kisses.
If male, then a male very much in touch with their feminine side!
“Dad” in this story is essentially God,
and I hope we let that realisation speak to us –
that fatherly and motherly love and care are both at their best
pointers towards the love that is our beginning and will be our end: God.

We speak of God as Father, but God’s care for us is motherly as well.
This has always been true, but let’s underline it this Mothering Sunday.
Our images of God, our words,
can only be metaphors, parables of what the divine is like.
We simply run out of language.
Let’s though return to the story of the prodigal son.
Where do we fit?

Not many of us are going to expect to be the father-God figure.
Some of us, though, may recognise the role.
Children grow up, and sometimes they turn towards self-destructive behaviour.
All our love and care cannot save them from this.
God knows we want it to.
And – reading between the lines –
we know that this is painful to and for parents – as for God.
We know that, some of us, only too well.

Today is Mothering Sunday,
and perhaps today we might pray for parents everywhere,
and for our mothers, be they living or dead,
holding that love and pain of parenthood close together as we do so.
Such risk is held in loving,
and a mother’s love is often our most selfless glimpse of what it is to love.

God the father-figure in the parable
knows about the pain of separation
and the loss of a child, in one way or another.
That love, that pain, is with our God, and in that is our hope and our healing.

Some of us may feel there is a little of the elder, faithful, indignant son about us.
And maybe we understand the cost of faithful service,
while another has been living only for themselves.
We feel rightly peeved, by all the standards of this world,
that we should have to celebrate another’s infidelity,
even if at its end.

Most of us, I think,
will find our lot with the main character,
the son who spends his life and his belongings in a stumbling after happiness:
the sex and drugs and rock’n’roll of his age.
Our tastes may be more urbane, be more discreet,
but most of us have looked for happiness and meaning
in places which weren’t good for us.

We are offered for our infidelity an honest hope, a road of return, a future.

The story of the prodigal son also offers us a good antidote
to much of what we might think Lent is about:

The wayward child rehearses in his head
his little speech about his sin and his unworthiness.

And the father figure – God –
simply embraces this returning child
and gets the party underway.

The prodigal doesn’t even get past the first sentence.
The embrace cuts through our bargaining or explaining
and we are restored.
As Jesus says to those he heals
– throw away your crutches –  get on with fully living.

The point of this parable, the point of this Lenten season,
is not penitence for its own sake,
some sort of self-flagellation cum self-definition session, no.
Lent is about finding the freedom to live as God’s liberated people –
and to look towards that most fully expressed at Easter.

Whoever we find ourselves as in this story,
it is ultimately speaks of a celebration we are called into.
Lent need not be morose.

Lent is the story of our returning to the love which waits for us,
which runs towards us and holds us.
Before we beat ourselves up, God would embrace us
and still the voices of accusation within our hearts and heads.

Know today that you are loved,
in the way a mother loves her newborn child:,
senselessly, abundantly, beautifully, you are loved.

These words of George Herbert, my birthday saint,
I recently saw provocatively set alongside William Blake’s image
“Satan in glory: thou wast perfect before iniquity was found in thee”…
and perhaps it points towards redemption we cannot imagine:

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.

A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here:
Love said, you shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful: Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat.
So I did sit and eat.

George Herbert

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