In today's Gospel, Luke presents to us three "lost and found stories": A shepherd and his sheep, a woman and her coin and a father, and his two sons. In the first and second story, the objects to be found are passive. Neither the sheep, nor the coin, participate in their being found. That is different in the famous story of the prodigal son. The son makes the initial move to return. He has a change of heart and because of the movement of his heart, he redirects his life journey.
It is this active involvement of the one found, which challenged me to focus on the story of the prodigal son today as we celebrate Alice's Mass of Thanksgiving.
But before we speak about the journey of the lost child back home to the parent, let us for a moment think about the audience in front of Jesus when he presents his three parables. Luke tells us that the majority of people, crowding around Jesus, are "tax-gatherers and other bad characters", but there are also "doctors and Pharisees", and they are the ones who grumble and judge him, because he hangs out with the sinners.
In good Hebrew fashion, Jesus does not give them an intellectual lecture in response and in his defense, but he tells three parables.
A parable is, according to the dictionary "a narrative of imagined events to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson". Considering the audience and their interactions with each other and with Jesus, it is not difficult to understand, that Jesus' main theme weaving through all three parables was, that our God is more concerned about those who seem to be lost and find their way home than those who smugly believe, they have already arrived.
There is another aspect of these parables upon which I want to touch, before I actually tell you my interpretation of the story. Like much of scripture, we do not only deal with the actual words Jesus used, but we are exposed to several interpretive layers on top of the original story. The early Christian community added these layers to make sense of their own experiences, their joys and tribulations as followers of Jesus.
Luke, the evangelist who put all these layers together, is known as the one who gives voice to the poor and powerless. He mentions women more often than any of the other Gospel writers. He is no Feminist, however. In the Women's Bible commentary, Jane Schaberg, calls the parable of the prodigal son, the parable of the missing mother. This really intrigued me!! It is a problem for us women that the authors of scripture are all men and that women are mostly passive and silent. Even those passages which gave women a voice were silenced and buried systematically in the past two thousand years of our church's history.
Feminist theologians and scripture scholars encourage us to deconstruct and reconstruct women's voices in our sacred scriptures.
And so I take the courage to retell this story of the prodigal son today. I hope that my retelling of the story will help us to celebrate the joyful occasion of Alice's Mass of Thanksgiving in a more meaningful way:
There once was a mother, who had a daughter and two sons. The mother had great plans for all of her children. She told her children often that she was preparing them for important work in her large vineyard. But the daughter was timid. She had been told by her relatives, her brothers and by her friends, that she was most lovable, when she was agreeable and servile, pretty to look at, but not too outspoken. One day, the daughter said to her mother: I will leave you and find myself a husband to take care of me, have children and raise them. That is what my calling is all about. The mother was very sad, but she let her daughter go, because she was a wise mother who knew that with a teenage daughter, there is not much room for reasoning. The daughter went out into the world, she found husbands, she had children, she made friends and lost them. Once in a while in the ups and downs of her life, she remembered her mother's plans for her. But the voice was not clear yet. Then the daughter became quite ill. She felt very lost and lonely. In her loneliness, confusion and fear she became more and more aware of her mother's call. The voice became stronger. She understood, that it had been necessary for her to leave, that the experiences of her life had made her the mature, intelligent and compassionate woman she now was. Audre Lord's words came into her mind: "When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important, whether I am afraid." Finally she said: Let me go home to my mother, she loves me and will care for me. She knows my inner being. She is calling me to serve her and in her service I will understand more deeply who I am and how I can be present to those who need me.
When the mother saw her daughter coming home she ran out and opened her arms wide to receive her back. She said: Welcome daughter, come and receive your inheritance which I have kept for you. Come put on an alb, a chasuble and a stole. You did not know your worth, but you have turned around and come back. Let's celebrate!
But what about the two brothers? I know, I should stop right here and not turn the parable into an allegory explaining every detail. But it is too tempting to draw some parallels.
The older brother came in from the fields and complained: Mother, I have served you for two thousand years. Who is she? A woman cannot represent our brother Jesus. I have done the work for you all the time. No one has the power to give her equal rights. Not even you, mother. The younger brother, however, rejoiced and said to his sister: It's about time you came home. There is so much work to be done. Welcome home, sis. Let's celebrate first, but then let's get to work.
The mother was much more pleased with the younger brother. She nudged the older one and encouraged him to join the festivities. But he was not ready, yet. He is still out there, pouting.
Then the mother turned to her daughter, she put her arms around her shoulder and led her into the large central room of the house. There were large vases of fragrant roses. Everything needed for a party had been prepared. And the mother said: Let's celebrate: You, my daughter have come home and you shall preside at the celebration of Thanksgiving, at the Eucharist.