31 March 2019 at St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl
Joshua 5, 9-12 + Psalm 34 +2 Corinthians 5, 17-21 + Luke 15, 1-3 & 11-32
We have just proclaimed familiar and much-loved verses from Luke’s Gospel. It is a complex story that explores much more than the dynamics of the human family. It is study inviting us to reflect upon freedom, duty, and love. Those two sons are really good people who in many ways reflect the reality of our lives, all of us. We are one or the other, or perhaps even a combination of both. The younger one lives his freedom. He leaves home when he chooses, and he returns when he chooses without a thought about how anyone else might feel about it. His older brother lives his duty. He serves loyally without complaint asking nothing in return.
It is easy to look down on the younger son. His disrespect comes through as he squanders what the father and probably the older son have worked to save. His return home is hardly admirable. He goes back because he’s hungry without a thought about what pain he has caused anyone else. His brother is no shining example of virtue in spite of his loyalty and the duty with which he has worked. He may never have complained, but you can hear his resentment. He does what is right as a way of gaining his father’s approval, not for some higher ideal like love. The return of his brother reveals his shallowness as he sees his brother receive on the easiest terms the affirmation and affection he wanted and worked to receive. Both of them are lost. They have habits that cut them off from others. Between them stands the father who lives with freedom and with duty because he lives with love. He is free of attachments to things which he generously gives away to someone who has not deserved it. He is free to forgive everything and welcome back this son. He knows what is more important, his son of the squandered stuff. At the same time, lives with a sense of duty when he leaves the celebration to speak with the older son who is outside pouting and angry. He knows that this one needs his love as well, maybe even more at that moment.
In a recent film called, “The Green Book” that many of us have seen, there is a line spoken that touched me deeply. In speaking to the musician who has revealed that he is estranged from his brother, the tough chauffer says: “The world is full of lonely people just waiting for someone else to make the first move.” My friends, God has made the first move in sending his son who waits for us all who stand outside alone in shame or resentment. Either way, the promise has been spoken: “All I have is yours.” It is a stunning promise made to all of us who sometimes feel resentment or anger when someone gets more than we think they deserve. We must remember and tell this story over and over again to remind ourselves of that promise remembering as we do that freedom and duty both serve a higher purpose that can get lost when they are exercised without love. Only those who turn all things toward love will be able to welcome back those who are lost and enter the joyful celebration that is the Kingdom of God.