Wild Lectionary: The Prodigal Parent

Lent 4C
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

By Carmen Retzlaff

Luke 15:30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’

Luke 15:31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.

Luke 15:32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’


  1. spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant. wasteful,extravagant,spendthrift, improvident, imprudent, immoderate, profligate, thriftless, excessive, intemperate, irresponsible, self-indulgent, reckless, wanton
  1. having or giving something on a lavish scale.

generous, lavish, liberal, unstinting, unsparing, bountiful

The parable in Luke about the father and two brothers – one who leaves and one who stays- is usually called “the parable of the prodigal son.” But if prodigal means “having or giving on a lavish scale,” then I think it should be called “the parable of the prodigal parent.” And the father in the story is the One who created everything, and the giving is the ever-abundant, bountiful earth.

posted by Phil Ruge-Jones in the “Early Sermon Seeds” Facebook Group

The prodigal parent in this parable is the father who gives not out of obligation or according to who deserves pay by producing good works, but out of extravagant, intemperate, love. The father gives to both children: to the faithful worker, the father is even more faithful, always providing for every need; and to the child who recklessly throws away his gifts, the father gives from the joy of finding a lost love.

The earth gives bountifully to us, in this way. Plants spring up from the tiniest cracks in pavement we’ve poured over their homes, to pour out oxygen for us anyway.

“The power of God is present at all places, even in the tiniest tree leaf. Do you think God is sleeping on a pillow in heaven? . . . God is wholly present in all creation, in every corner, behind you and before you.”       – Martin Luther (1483-1546) LW 37:57

The profligate earth provides food for creatures, often in an excessive display of wanton beauty.

“All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Earth, our mother,
who feeds us in her sovereignty and produces
Various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.”
– from “The Canticle of Brother Sun” by St. Francis of Assisi

 fig and juniper on the New Life land: abundance

Rain in Texas is like the immoderate parent sometimes. Central Texas gets about 34 inches of rain per year: in comparison, Portland, Oregon, for example, gets an average of 36 inches. There are an average of 154 rainy days per year in Portland, 88 days in Austin. When it rains, it rains in a reckless and wastefully extravagant way.

“Thunderstorms in Austin can be very efficient rainmakers, with large amounts of rain falling within short periods of time. Rainfall amounts have exceeded 5 inches in several hours. The record for two-day rainfall occurred on September 9-10, 1921, in which 19.03” of rain fell.” – Austin Climate Summary, National Weather Service

Luke 15:18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;
Luke 15:19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ’
Luke 15:20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.

The child who realizes that he has squandered the love of his parent rehearses his plea when he returns. I imagine him raising pleading arms; but before he can speak, the father runs to him, and the parent’s upraised arms unconditionally embrace the lost, beloved child. In the service of the eucharist, we raise our hands to God, like a young child to a parent, longing for comfort. It can be seen as a prayer of desperate need, responded to always, faithfully, in the gifts of bread and wine, God’s very body, everything the parent willingly gives. And our child-like response to this unrestrained generosity is “overwhelmed thanksgiving:”

“In the great thanksgiving, the prayer of blessing prayed at the eucharistic table, the presider—and among some congregations today, members of the assembly—raises his or her hands in the ancient Christian posture of prayer, the orans posture. With hands outstretched, the body languages suggests a yielding of the prayer to God, in overwhelmed thanksgiving, and perhaps also speaking of overwhelming need.” – From A Watered Garden: Christian Worship and Earth’s Ecology by Benjamin M. Stewart

The story of the prodigal parent is the story of unconditional love and giving. God is like that. Nature is like that. In this parable, we are the runaway child, taking our gifts for granted, using the gifts of the earth and this life without thought, and expecting recrimination; and we are the hardworking child, who sees scarcity where there is abundance. And the giving parent is there to take us into their arms, no matter what, and give more.

rain on the New Life land

Self-giving, heavy-laden Christ-tree,
how hungrily we groan for the taste of your
soul medicine, syrup of peace.
One moist mouthful, one leaf
a balm for broken hearts and minds,
Wisdom’s antidote to th
belly-clutching pains
that come with surrender
to the irresistible temptation
of knowing too much yet not enough.
So far do we feel from your wide-spreading arms
that we snatch at mere petals carried on the breeze,
praying their tissue fragility may be enough
to save us from ourselves,
and creation from the death that we unleash;
yet all the while
we stand in the shadow of your boughs,
windfalls of your love on the ground all around.

  • from The Healer’s Tree: A Bible-based resource on ecology, peace & justice by Annie Heppenstall

herCarmen Retzlaff is the occasionally rain-soaked pastor of New Life Lutheran of Dripping Springs, Texas, an outdoor church in the Hill Country of Central Texas, ancestral home of the Tonkawa people, part of the Lower Colorado River watershed atop the Trinity aquifer. New Life is a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She is a contributing editor to AllCreation.org, a living archive, documenting and drawing from diverse wisdoms in regards to today’s environmental challenges, and a partner in the Wild Church Network (www.wildchurchnetwork.com).

Wild Lectionary is a weekly blog on ecological justice themes in the revised common lectionary, curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territory.

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