The LORD said to Joshua,
“Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.”
While the Israelites were encamped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho,
they celebrated the Passover
on the evening of the fourteenth of the month.
On the day after the Passover,
they ate of the produce of the land
the form of unleavened cakes and parched grain.
On that same day after the Passover,
on which they ate of the produce of the land, the manna ceased.
No longer was there manna for the Israelites,
who that year ate of the yield of the land of Canaan.
Brothers and sisters:
Whoever is in Christ is a new creation:
the old things have passed away;
behold, new things have come.
And all this is from God,
who has reconciled us to himself through Christ
and given us the ministry of reconciliation,
namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ,
not counting their trespasses against them
and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
So we are ambassadors for Christ,
as if God were appealing through us.
We implore you on behalf of Christ,
be reconciled to God.
For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin,
so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.
Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus,
but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying,
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So to them Jesus addressed this parable:
“A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father,
‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’
So the father divided the property between them.
After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings
and set off to a distant country
where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.
When he had freely spent everything,
a severe famine struck that country,
and he found himself in dire need.
So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens
who sent him to his farm to tend the swine.
And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed,
but nobody gave him any.
Coming to his senses he thought,
‘How many of my father’s hired workers
have more than enough food to eat,
but here am I, dying from hunger.
I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him,
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
I no longer deserve to be called your son;
treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’
So he got up and went back to his father.
While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
His son said to him,
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you;
I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
But his father ordered his servants,
‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him;
put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.
Then let us celebrate with a feast,
because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
he was lost, and has been found.’
Then the celebration began.
Now the older son had been out in the field
and, on his way back, as he neared the house,
he heard the sound of music and dancing.
He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.
The servant said to him,
‘Your brother has returned
and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf
because he has him back safe and sound.’
He became angry,
and when he refused to enter the house,
his father came out and pleaded with him.
He said to his father in reply,
‘Look, all these years I served you
and not once did I disobey your orders;
yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.
But when your son returns
who swallowed up your property with prostitutes,
for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
He said to him,
‘My son, you are here with me always;
everything I have is yours.
But now we must
celebrate and rejoice,
because your brother was dead and has come to life again;
he was lost and has been found.’”
Those - like Jesus of Nazareth - who employ parables when they teach have a deliberate, specific agenda. For such people parables are more than just cute, memorable little stories. By integrating them into their teaching, they’re revealing their unique mentality.
Parables only come into play when teachers are trying to go beyond just providing more information or facts to their students. They’re a sign teachers are interested in changing the way their students process all the information and facts entering their brains. A parable is a means to retool one’s frame of mind, telling the recipient, “You can’t get to where I am from where you are. Unless you drastically change the way you look at reality, you’ll never understand what I’m saying.”
A parable traps the listener to sign off on something he or she normally would never accept. When, for instance, Jesus is criticized in Mark 4 for wasting his time preaching to the crowds, he quickly comes up with a parable about a farmer sowing seed. If he stopped sowing just because the process wasted most of the seed, we’d have no bread. It all depends on how you look at it.
Today’s Lucan parable of the prodigal father accomplishes something similar. Triggered by those in the evangelist’s community who can always be counted on to come up with logical reasons for putting limits on their forgiveness of others, the gospel Jesus reframes the issue into a death and life situation. “Your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” Looking at the younger son’s behavior from that perspective, what father – and what Christian - wouldn’t throw legalities to the wind? We’re dealing with a whole new ball game.
One of the problems we face today is that once Jesus’ parables were lifted from their original contexts and “allegorized,” they lost a lot of their kick. Rarely do they demand a 180-degree turnabout in the way we think. Yet, as Paul mentions in our II Corinthians pericope, Christians always presume they must develop a new frame of mind. Why? Because the person we imitate is himself or herself a “new creation.” The risen Jesus is unlike anyone we’ve encountered. If we approach that unique person with the same mentality we approach everyone else, we’ll never develop into other Christs; never scratch the surface of the “righteousness of God.”
Just as things changed when the Israelites celebrated their first Passover in the Promised Land, so if we really want to appreciate the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, we must change our value system. That transformation is what the Galilean carpenter insists upon when he commands his followers, “Repent!”
It’s sadly clear that we’ve resisted this change through the centuries. Instead of developing the mindset of the risen Jesus, we’ve successfully squeezed his teachings into our mindset, lopping off an ear there, a leg here, until it fits. How can we possibly carry on his “ministry of reconciliation” unless we first accept the uniqueness of that ministry?
As important as today’s gospel pericope is in our imitation of Jesus, do you realize that, before the 1970 lectionary reforms, this passage was never proclaimed during a Sunday liturgy? Unless we heard it during a religion class (as I did) or in a retreat conference, we could have gone a lifetime not knowing it exists. And though I did know about it, for some reason I don’t remember anything ever being said about the prodigal father’s key older son – the person whose mindset triggered the parable’s creation.
Even today the vast majority of Scripture is never found in a liturgical setting.
Don’t you wonder what else is “out there?”