September 11, 2022 On Board the MS Zaandam
Exodus 32:7-14 + Psalm 51 + 1 Timothy 1:12-17 + Luke 15:1-32
With our first day on this ship and a wonderful week ahead of us, we are gifted with a very familiar Gospel that in some ways could set a theme or a give some focus to the time we spend onboard together. My own hope is that your presence here today and perhaps during the week will be a real-time proclamation of this Gospel and it’s three parables all of which have a common element that might not be obvious from just reading the text. In each one of these parables, there is a party, a dinner, a joyful celebration, and that is Luke’s concern for us.
Often the third parable is mis-named as the Parable of the Prodigal Son when in fact, all three of the characters are prodigal if we understand that the word means extravagant. The younger son is prodigal in his use of the inheritance. The father is prodigal in his willingness to give the inheritance away before he dies as well as the way he spends his time waiting. The older son is prodigal as well as he lists how faithfully and dutifully he has fulfilled his obligations. This is not about their extravagance. It is about God’s extravagance revealed in the behavior of the father who wants both of those crazy kids to come to the banquet.
Ultimately, that father, that shepherd, and that woman reveal something to us about God which is exactly what the life and the word of Jesus Christ still does. Which of course, is all very well and good, unless it’s all about someone else. Luke preserved these parables for us, and because the church proclaims them today, there is more. The revelation is not finished, and there might yet be a fourth parable to add to these three in which case, you and I take our place among a shepherd, a woman, a father and a family. When you get right down to it, that just about includes us all, women, men, parents, and priest.
In the context of Luke’s Gospel now at the fifteenth chapter, Jesus is being watched and criticized for hanging out with the wrong crowd and even eating with delinquents. In response, Jesus does not criticize anybody. He takes up one of Israel’s favorite images, a Shepherd. The trouble is, this shepherd is prodigal. Obviously though, this irrational shepherd and a zealous housekeeper represent God. Luke sums it all up with a family story that is the story of God’s family. Some of us in this family are not so faithful to our duties, and want to take without giving. Some of us think that being “good” means doing what we’re supposed to do while silently judging others and refusing to join in the fun when someone who does not deserve a party gets one.
There’s a lot to think about through this week, and a reminder comes from Luke that revelation continues on this ship as it takes us out of our routine and normal lives. There are people out there wandering around this ship who are not in here. I can tell you from experience after serving on more than 20 cruises that before I get back to Boston in fourteen days, I will have heard people say: “Ah, Father, I was raised a Catholic” more times and I want to count. I always respond by saying: “I don’t like the past tense. Why is that?”
There is a chance that because you have been here today, one of those people will come home to the banquet that is already prepared because of your witness, your kindness, your patience nurtured on the Bread of Life. Those of us who dare to say: “Amen” and stretch out our hands in communion receive not just the Body of Christ, but a mandate to be what he is and always has been, a revelation of the Father’s love.