Many years ago, at the annual clergy conference of the Diocese of Oklahoma, I was introduced to a teacher of the New Testament named Brandon Scott. Dr. Scott is a Roman Catholic layman who at the time taught at a Disciples of Christ seminary at Phillip’s University in Enid, Oklahoma. His topic for us clergy that year was the parables of Jesus, and he used as a basis for his lectures his book Hear Then the Parable. Throughout the two days of teaching on parables, Dr. Scott opened to me a new world of understanding of the life and times of Jesus and a means to begin what has become a lifetime exploration of the richness of these brief but intensely deep and moving stories by which our Lord invites his hearers, then and now, to come closer to the heart of God.
Perhaps the most widely recognized parable of Jesus is known almost universally as the Prodigal Son. Prodigal can mean wasteful, but it also means extravagant, as in “prodigious.” The problem with titling this parable the Prodigal Son is that it points to the younger son only, and ignores the complete cast of characters. Dr. Scott in his lectures and in his book reminds us that Jesus introduces the parable with these words, “There was a man who had two sons.” We do well to remember that the story does not conclude with the return of the younger son.
The two books we are using for this year’s Advent exploration and meditation are: The Return of the Prodigal Son, A Story of Homecoming by Henri J. M. Nouwen and The Prodigal God, Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy Keller. Each author approaches the parable using his unique lens, and both challenge us to open our hearts to God’s welcome and prodigious love for absolutely all of us. Each also calls us to repent of our close-mindedness toward both the Father’s generosity and the other brother’s refusal to be in relationship.
As we of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth work toward becoming a more reconciling community, and especially as we live in the “in-between time” of separation and reunion, let us use both the parable of the man with two sons and these two books as meditation on our life in God’s grace and the possibility of reconciliation.