I recently had an interesting first time experience, handicapped parking. We spent the weekend in Ohio with our son, Joshua, who attends the University of Dayton. Maria's mom, Mary, came along so we had her wheelchair and handicapped parking permit with us. I have to admit, having the parking permit hanging from the rearview mirror initially gave me a sense of privilege.
The Gospel this week helps us look into our hearts. As you read this Gospel reflect on the various ways it speaks to you:
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.’” Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
This story starts with people who are listening and observing Jesus. There are two separate groups each of which have very different perspectives. The tax collectors and sinners were drawn to Jesus' message of redemption. The privileged Pharisees are complaining about Jesus' blatant disregard for their Jewish "rules". Jesus shares the Parable of the Prodigal Son which speaks to the two assembled groups. It provides a wonderful illustration of the basic condition of our all too human hearts.
My handicapped parking experience provided me with new insight into this parable. At one point I dropped my family off with Mary in her wheelchair. I then parked in a nearby reserved handicapped spot. As I got out of the car I realized how often I had self-righteously judged others for doing exactly what I was doing. It has always bothered me to see an able-bodied person park in a handicapped spot. I would often complain about these "sinners". Now I was wondering what others might be saying about me. I was no longer complaining like the older brother. Instead, I was looking into my heart and seeking forgiveness for my own sinfulness.
In that moment I saw how easy it was to become spiritually handicapped. During Lent we have the opportunity to search our handicapped hearts. We may find ourselves in the role of either of the sons. Regardless, we, like the brothers, need to experience the Father's merciful heart. This is the purpose of our Lenten journey with Christ.
Thank you Heavenly Father for allowing us to return to you. We are more privileged than we know.