This week’s reflections focus on the texts from the Fourth Sunday in Lent: Joshua 5:9-12; 1 Corinthians 5:16-21; and Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32.
We began our conversation with the Luke text. The story of the Prodigal Son is one we had all heard many times before, and quickly grabbed our attention. Turns out this story could as easily be labeled the Prodigal Father; though one definition of the word deals with reckless extravagance, prodigal can also mean to give profusely – which is precisely how the Father in the story responds with his love for his sons.
We reflected on how the first audience to hear this would have marveled at the disgrace the Father brings on himself to embrace the children he loves. The Father forgoes propriety and runs to the Son Who Returned, quickly calling for items which would have symbolized the child’s restoration into the household. And when the Son Who Stayed bars himself from the subsequent celebratory feast, the Father leaves the banquet in order to plead with the elder son to come in and join in the rejoicing. Not scold, or order, but to plead. It is as though the Father sees no shame in lowering himself in order to bring about reconciliation with his children.
Given the time the story was written, we wondered whether there may be a layer of meaning within the parable hinting at the dynamics between those early Christians who differed in their opinions about the necessity of adhering to the traditions of their Jewish heritage. Perhaps the author was advocating for an understanding that both paths are part of God’s family, and welcome at the table. If this is the case however, we weren’t certain what to make of the Son Who Returned coming back home.
The son returns because he recalls the abundance of his Father’s household – even the slaves have enough to eat. We saw a connection here to the text from Joshua. God sustains the Israelites in the desert with manna, and God continues to sustain the people in Canaan through the fruits of the land. We pondered whether this story was first written down as a reminder of why God no longer sustains with manna from heaven, or if it was a reminder of the invitation God extends to be co-workers in what God is doing in our communities.
It recalled for us the quote by St. Augustine, “Without God, I cannot. Without me, God will not.” Although God does not always provide by just zapping down manna from heaven, God offers us the means to bring about the fullness of God’s kingdom here on earth.
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we pondered verse 17’s statement, “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.” Within our own context, some have expanded this sentiment to say that all have been made new through Christ’s actions. This is certainly the claim of those who ascribe to universalism. However, not all have gone so far, and predicate this newness of life on some decision or action for Christ. We wondered about whether such perspectives showed a maturing in understanding of the nature and will of God, or rather a veering away from the teachings passed on by those who most closely knew the Word Incarnate.
We did agree that the fruit we bear seems of great importance for Paul. Although our justification comes through what Christ has done on our behalf, Paul asserts that those who are made new will show forth this faith in their words and actions. Given the weight of the mantle of ambassadors for Christ, we agreed it was worth remembering the text from Joshua, and the reminder of how God sustains us, even as God calls us to be co-workers in the labor of the kingdom.
If this summary has piqued your interest, share your thoughts in the comments below. Also, feel free to join us after worship on Sundays at Trinity, or online for our Thursday evening Google hangouts. Email Joe (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any questions about the text study, or are interested in getting involved. Blessings on your Lenten season.