The Rev. Leslie Mazzacano
Trinity Episcopal Church
Moorestown, New Jersey
March 31, 2019
Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sin is put away!
The Gospel today of The Prodigal Son is a story familiar to all of us and movingly depicted in art, drama and dance. We like stories like this; ones with happy endings where people come to their senses and are restored to the family.
But that isn’t how it always happens, is it? We know of many estrangements between fathers and sons, mothers and daughters. Many years ago, my son’s father who was from a wealthy family in Honduras asked his father for his “inheritance” because he wanted to set up a woodworking shop in Collingswood. This he said was a way to stay close to his son. We were not a family at the time. We had been separated over a year. I had filed for divorce, and he saw our son “little” Omar on the weekends. His father obliged him and helped him buy expensive equipment. Omar rented out a small store front in Collingswood and started making wooden toys, tables and other items to sell. The business was not enough to sustain Big Omar let alone pay child support, and he went into arrears on the support. I was living on welfare and had forfeited my child support to welfare, so it would not affect what I received. When welfare went after Big Omar for the back-child support, Omar closed the shop and went back home to Honduras where his father welcomed him with open arms and gave him a prominent position in their company.
How I fit into this story is I felt like the dutiful one. I wanted to save the marriage but there was another. I was deceived. I was living on welfare trying to support myself and my son. Being a single parent at the age of 22 was very difficult.
Omar had strayed from his family by coming to the United States. But when he wanted to come home because he was not able to sustain his life and his son’s there were no questions asked Omar went home.
The parable emphasizes how God loves us. God desires our return, which is one of the themes of Lent. We, like sheep, have gone astray.
Now, deep into Lent some of us begin to learn the cost. We are hungry for the bread of life; weary of the cheap and tawdry excesses that we choose because that is what we are taught is living in the world.
Today we are invited to holy living, a turning around, and a return to sanity; a restoration of our relationship with our creator and redeemer. Even though we took the cheap route and asked for grace in advance, even though we tried it all in our flagrant lives of spending and using the resources we should have protected and shared, there is a pull to return.
Perhaps you have decided Lent hasn’t worked out for you this year. There were too many distractions: projects at work, income taxes, wintery weather, stress, nothing offered at Church you were interested in – the list can be as long as you like. For me it was a time of taking care of others. Not focusing on myself and self-reflection. Maybe next year.
Or, maybe now? We call it the parable of the Prodigal Son, as if the whole point was to see what happens to a young man who “breaks bad.” We almost secretly delight in seeing him get what was coming to him. But this is not the point at all. This is not a parable of the prodigal son, but a parable of a forgiving father. It is not the story of a young man with a bad past, but a story of a father whose love is strong enough to allow him to forget the past. All it takes for the prodigal son is to turn around. Just one action changes everything. He has a speech rehearsed, but picture in your mind the father seeing his son from afar and running to meet him. Do you think he waited for the son’s speech? Of course not. He ran to him and embraced him. In my case feeling like the older son, the father does not rebuke his resentment, as he insists that the older son is always with him, and all that is mine is yours. In that moment, God extends the compassion and mercy. God is willing to forgive us.
So, harmony restored and back in the fold, life for us can go on. The intention of this parable is more than just a restoration of relationships with a loving God.
The passage from Second Corinthians states:
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”
This business of being reconciled isn’t about us as much as it is about what we are commissioned to do. We are to be ambassadors for Christ. Or, as we are instructed in the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer, we are “to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever [we] may be.”
We cannot do this without our relationship with God and each other, and that restoration gives us the energy and guidance to do the work for which we were baptized. As is often said, “You may be the best Christian someone has ever met.” And then, like the father in the parable, we wait patiently, prayerfully, for the return of those to whom we are sent.
Lent is not just about each of our journeys and us. It is also about to whom we are sent and how we minister to the other, the stranger, the friend, the family member who sees no need for a relationship with God or the community of faith. It is about having the strength to give a cup of cold water to the least and the lost. It is about sorrowing over what we have done to creation and finding ways to help restore it. It is about sowing seeds of hope amid darkness and chaos.
Earlier I stated that my Lent so far has been caring for others. My husband went through his second hip replacement earlier this month. The day of his surgery as the nurse was preparing him and going through the litany of questions, one of them was do you wish to have a member of the clergy visit you.
My husband proudly responded that he had his own personal clergy person in his wife. John knew that I would be praying for the both of us.
In the waiting room God sent me a precocious three-year-old who quickly became my friend. We played, cuddled and became fast friends. It made my time of waiting and being anxious something to remember and cherish. Sonia was her name, and she had me take her picture several times, so I will remember that time with her knowing that God was taking care of me.
So far Lent may have been nothing to you. But today determine it is the time for you to approach the holy table with repentance and faith that God meets you and will feed you with the body of Christ, the bread of heaven. Savor this moment as a time when God is reaching out to you, hoping you will return. Let God’s arms enfold you and feel the removal of all your sins. Then, having been fed the bread of life, walk out the door into God’s world prepared to be an ambassador for Christ. The Spirit will direct you to whom you are to go. Amen.
Resources: Synthesis, Rev. Ben Helmer, retired Episcopal priest