A Reflection for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Joshua 5:9-12
Psalm 32
2 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 15:1-2, 11b-32

MODERN CHRISTIANS can see the ending coming from a mile away. Of course, the Prodigal Son will be met on the road once more by his forgiving father. They’ll have a big “welcome home” party. And the older, more responsible son will refuse to join in, preferring to remain outside, stewing with resentment. We already know the message: it’s never too late to repent. God’s forgiveness is extravagant. We might even play the game of “Which Son Am I?” to try to find new paths into this parable. But ultimately, though we may feel a twinge of pity for the older son, we are more or less “set” with what this story has to teach us.

Then why are we still so ashamed? If we know the lesson this parable imparts, why don’t we believe it? So many people I know carry guilt and sadness with them, year after year, for an offense, trait, or desire they deem unforgivable. I still can get pangs of remorse for being gay, twenty-five years after coming out—despite a loving husband and a changing culture. We behave as if Divine Love is conditional, and that God opts out under certain circumstances.

Perhaps we can’t forgive ourselves. Even as God parts the curtains and looks out the window down the road every day, hoping to spy us on that path towards home, we starve, mired in pigsty muck, thinking it’s what we deserve. Or we fear rejection so much we’d sooner wallow in our private shame than ask for a second chance. Whatever the reasons, deep down many of us find it impossible to trust God and surrender control of our soul.

So this and every Lent we rehearse the journey back home in our head, hoping one day we’re met on the road by a God who will fall on our neck and ask no questions. And perhaps every Easter we slaughter the fatted calf in our heart, practicing what celebration feels like, until we can muster the courage to unstick from the sludge and take that first step of return. Trust that, before the second step, a far-away door has already flung open and God races towards you with open arms.