The Calling of a Prodigal God

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It is week five of the Good Book Club, and we are more than halfway through Luke’s Gospel, with an eye toward Acts during the Great 50 Days of Easter.  Next week, Lent’s penultimate week, will be Holy Week in the GBC, but before we get there, we have some famous parables, including the one commonly called “The Parable of the Prodigal Son,” from which this week’s Acts 8 BLOGFORCE question comes.

Prodigal (n) – a person who spends money in a recklessly extravagant way – is often used to describe the younger son in the well known parable, but what if the point of this parable is the prodigality of the father?  Tell of a time you were aware of God’s recklessly extravagant grace.


Recently, I have found myself in several different conversations about call.  It is a hazard of the job, I suppose.  For some, it is the early inklings of a call to ordained ministry.  For others, it is the frustrations of the innumerable midway points in the process that make progress impossible according to physics.  For a few, these conversations have revolved around the second way we discuss call in the Episcopal Church: finding a job.  See, once you have, with God’s [significant] help navigated the process of discerning a call to ordained ministry and been trained for that vocation, is discerning a call to a position, or more colloquially, a job.

In the past, that process hasn’t really been about call.  The Bishop, to whom you are beholden throughout the process, would often simply place seminary graduates in congregations that needed holes filled.  Certainly, there was some discernment involved, but three people to fill three holes means everybody gets placed, whether they are all a good fit or not.  In this system, the job was usually for at time-certain, often two years, and then the next call process would commence.  Except, when you know your paychecks will cease on a certain date, you don’t have time really let the Spirit work, and so discernment can quickly dissipate while the search for a job takes over.  In many cases, it wasn’t until the third call that someone really had the chance to experience the fullness of discernment and the joyful nature of call.

When I think about the prodigality of God, I’m often reminded of my own difficulty with call.  It was the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday of my senior year of seminary when I found out that I would not be placed.  What felt like an earth shaking moment in which the rug fell out from under me, has, in hindsight, been a moment wherein I relish in God’s recklessly extravagant grace.  It didn’t fell good at the time, not unlike, I’m sure, the younger son returning home to his father’ house, but I quickly realized the gift that was waiting for me.  As I moved from discerning a vocational call to discerning a call to a position, I became aware of how joyous that process can be.  As I’ve said many times in the last ten+ years, riding the wave of the Spirit is a whole lot of fun.

I am grateful, everyday, to know what call feels like.  To have experienced it in TKT’s living room in Foley in April of 2007 and in a rental car in Bowling Green in October of 2016 is a gift of God’s recklessly extravagant grace.  It is my prayer for all in discernment, whether they will graduate from a seminary with an MDiv or a diocesan school for ministry with a certificate, that they will, sooner rather than later, get to experience the same gift and blessing.

And, lest this post be another point in the accusation of my penchant for clericalism, I would note that I think this type of discernment isn’t exclusive to those of us in the professional class of ministry.  When God’s call is followed, in our work and in our churches, the experience of God’s grace can be overwhelming, in a good way.  May God bless you with the reckless extravagance as you take your place in the building up of the Kingdom of God.


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What the Parable of the Sower Might Be About

It has been said that as soon as one thinks they’ve grasped the meaning of a parable, they’ve lost it.  This might be hyperbole, but I’m apt to think it probably isn’t too fair from the truth.  The gift of a parable, as I said on Monday, is that it is complex, nuanced, multifaceted.  I may find one particular meaning in the Parable of the Sower while you may find another.  Even naming it “the Parable of the Sower” betrays that my understanding of the story comes from a particular angle.  You may choose to call it “the Parable of the Soil,” but as I said yesterday, I’d think you were wrong. 😉

Many preachers find their understanding of this parable in the explanation given in verses 18-23.  This is well and good, but it leads us to talk about two dirty secrets of exegesis: things I swore I wouldn’t talk about once I left seminary.  The first is the Historical Critical method of Biblical interpretation.  Historical Criticism seeks to find the origins of the text in order to find the kernal of truth hidden inside.  In order to do quality Biblical exegesis, one must understand Historical Criticism in order to ignore it in the pulpit.  So, for example, most scholars argue that the interpretation given for the Parable of the Sower is not original to Jesus, but rather it was added by Matthew, building off of an addition my Mark, as a pastoral response to his original church context.  It can be considered sacrilegious and heterodox to suggest that the Bible says something that might not actually be true, so many modern preachers, knowing this information, skirt around it by being bold enough to suggest a different interpretation, thereby asserting that maybe the one attributed to Jesus isn’t the only way.  This leads us to the second secret of exegesis, we all interpret scripture differently because scripture is not univocal.  Again, in our interpretation from verses 18-23, we see that it begins with “Jesus” telling “the disciples” to “hear again the parable of the sower,” but yet once the interpretation begins, it is all about the soil.  So which is it really about?  Good preachers will explore both avenues before settling on their own interpretive angle.  Some will argue that we should be good soil.  Others will say that we should spread the seed of the Gospel.  Me, well you already know mine.

I think the Parable of the Sower is about the prodigality of God.  Whether the sower is God the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit changes over time, but the truth about God remains the same, God spreads his love with reckless abandon in hearts that are at once all four different types of soil.  No where is this more evident than in the lives of the disciples, who, as Elisabeth Johnson points out, Jesus invests in over and over and over again despite their hard hearts, stiff necks, and dim minds.  He continues to work at them, helping them to understand just what God is up to.  He scatters the seed of the Gospel with reckless abandon, and even when it is clear that they just don’t get it, when they turn him over to the authorities, abandon him in his hour of need, and deny even knowing him; he continues to pour out his love on them, inviting them to back into the fold after his resurrection.

God is downright foolish with his love for us, scattering seed indiscriminately and tending to soil that should have been abandoned long ago.  That is, I think, what this parable is all about.