RCL Year C Lent 4
Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Saint Luke 15:1-3 and 11b-32

The parable we have just heard, the Prodigal Son, could be made into a great movie, one that could be nominated for Best Picture, don’t you think? Although there’s no love interest, the parable is very well known, and viewers would want to see how we handled it and developed its themes. Next to the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the Parable of the Prodigal Son probably has more people that know it than any other passage in the New Testament. We know it so well, we probably save ourselves from the sharper side of its meaning for us.

For my movie of the Prodigal Son, I think I would cast James Coburn as the Father, rough and gruff enough to explain the Prodigal Son’s running away from home but capable of melting and showing the equal and unlimited and unconditional love he has for both sons. For the Prodigal Son, you would want someone better-looking than bright, maybe Brad Pitt or, a few years ago, Robert Redford or, even longer ago, Montgomery Cliff. In this role, the emphasis should be on the stupidity of running away with a nod toward the cunning involved in his speech prepared for his Father.

For the Elder Brother, the working stiff who stays at home and turns his honesty and his hard-working approach to life with his sense of responsibility into a crusty, self-pitying weapon in the warfare of sibling rivalry, how about Robert DeNiro, Sean Penn, or Al Pacino? They are all capable of the angry self-pity which motivates his jealousy at the end. Alas, in this parable, I cannot find work for Sandra Bullock or Tom Hanks though you know, doubtlessly, how versatile they are. For the director, Kenneth Lonergan, who directed Manchester by the Sea, about a grief almost impossible to overcome. A grief like that exists in the Prodigal Son until he perceives that forgiveness may overwhelm the stupidity of his choice to take his money and go. And a grief like that lives in the Elder Brother who glimpses not the forgiveness that both his brother and he need. That’s an important element because the Parable of the Prodigal Son is played out in households and congregations across the country.

The fundamental role is that of the Father. His steadfast love, his unconditional and unending love, for both of his sons pushes the sons into the foreground where they are shown to need repentance and reliance upon the steadfast love of the Father. The Prodigal Son so mistrusts his Father’s love that he runs away. And when he runs through his Father’s money, he creates his possibly genuine, possibly just manipulative, speech about sinning. The Father doesn’t even let him get the speech out—the Father’s love just overwhelms it and renders it unnecessary: the Prodigal is back, and that’s all that counts. And, similarly, the Elder Brother so mistrusts his Father’s love that stays at home, never risking himself and never really enjoying and accepting his Father’s love. He makes himself, in his own words, his Father’s slave so he will be protected from becoming his Father’s Son. He so mistrusts his Father’s love that he cannot bear to see that same love shared with his brother, so we get that self-serving speech about never even asking for a party with his friends. But the Father’s love overwhelms his speech, too. His Father makes it clear that the Elder Brother could at all times have accepted his Father’s love the way the Prodigal Son is accepting it and now enjoying it.

Both brothers are amazingly like us. For we have the Father’s love, too. And the Father’s love will overwhelm all of our pretty speeches, all of our self-pity, all of our resistance to grow up into the full stature of God’s children.

You heard in the Old Testament reading from Joshua how the Israelites entered the promised land and celebrated the Passover. And when they entered the promised land, the Lord stopped feeding them with manna. In the promised land they had to eat the “produce of the land.”[1] We’ve made it to the promised land too. Through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ we have been guaranteed eternal life if we obey and trust him. All we have to do is to eat the produce of the land. All the two brothers have to do is to eat the produce of the land. And I take this to be the produce of the land: to give and to receive the Father’s love, and share it with one another. Neither brother finds that easy. And it may not be easy for you. That’s why the Father’s role is fundamental to the movie. His love overwhelms all our excuses and our weaknesses. We just have to give and to receive the Father’s love, and share it with each other. That’s a tall order, but so is making a movie, and so is observing Lent. But with God’s help and with the Father’s love, we can do it, and we can thrive while we do.


[1] Joshua 5:11.