This Sunday’s lectionary passages are Psalm 32 and Luke 15:1-3, 11-32; the following is my working draft (and draft title) for my sermon this coming Sunday at Saint Paul’s United Church of Christ in Dallastown, PA. Commentaries used include the UCC’s SAMUEL resource, the Girardian Commentary on the Lectionary, and Anne Howard’s blog post (cited below).
Most of us know this story of the lost Son or the prodigal Son. In fact, I was just thinking about this story as I was watching the Disney movie Pinocchio a week or two ago with my kids. The scene in the movie where the boys, including Pinocchio, are taken away to Pleasure Island before they are kidnapped is especially disturbing to me, partially because it seems to have an undertone of how child molesters groom children they are about to abuse—to the point that it really made me cringe watching this film. Consequently the children are all turned into donkeys, which I think is symbol of the child abuse, after they are given a taste of alcohol and tobacco, representing in the story addictions that adults have, offering them to children as a kind of forbidden fruit.
The other thing that Pinocchio reminds me of in this story is what Pinocchio is most famous for, which is the lying. In our Bible story, the youngest son exploits the father’s money, comes back home and is extravagantly welcomed back. In fact, the Father sees the son coming home in a distance, and the son begins telling him the speech that he has been rehearsing. The Son had rehearsed this whole speech about how the father’s servants were eating better and so on, but the Father was so happy that he didn’t even let him get to that point. All the Son said was “Father, I’ve sinned against God, I sinned before you, I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.”
Of course, the father welcomes him home, puts good clothes on his son, places a ring on his finger, and calls a banquet. This part of the story is important, because the ring is a symbol of the inheritance, the banquet here is a symbol of heaven, of the banquet that has no end.
The way I have always heard this story and the way I have always been taught to interpret this story places emphasis on the banquet, that the prodigal son is an analogy or allegory about how God welcomes home sinners. I’ve actually heard this story preached at funerals for people who were pretty clearly not Christians as a mean to comfort the grieving, that God welcomes home everyone who returns. To be honest, I really like this interpretation of the story, that no matter how far away we’ve gone from God, when we come back we are welcomed home. (In fact, to follow my connection to Pinocchio earlier, this theme is a lot like another Disney movie that some of you have surely seen, Finding Nemo, where the Father does everything he can to get his lost son back.) Read the rest of this entry »