March 14, 2010


My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.

– Luke 15: 31

Here is a more contemporary version of this famous parable. I hope it can help us see its relevance for today. It can be found in an old, old movie entitled Stars in My Crown:

In the little southern town where the story takes place there was a black man who had been a kind of “Uncle Remus” figure – a father like the father of today’s parable – to several generations of the children who had grown up there. He was good to them, generous with them. He told them stories, taught them to hunt & fish, & in general was greatly beloved.

Now he owned a little cabin & some land, & after his wife died, he continued to live there alone. One year a very valuable deposit of copper was discovered that ran through his property. Some of the business leaders of the town came to the old man & offered to buy his land so they could start a mining operation. The old man had not been raised in a money culture. He simply wanted to live out his days in the only house he had ever known, & so, with total naiveté, he refused to sell. Ah, but since a great deal of money was at stake – greed is a terrible thing – the atmosphere eventually turned ugly. When the businessmen could not buy him out, they resorted to nasty threats.

Sadly, many of the very people he had befriended all his life, the very ones who were his spiritual sons, turned prodigal, wanted his inheritance, fled their father, & became his foes. It finally came down to the point where they said, “If you are not off the property by sundown tomorrow night, we are going to come & lynch you!”

Well, the old preacher in town got wind of what was happening & went out to the black man’s house. Then, the next day, at the appointed sundown hour, the executioners rode up, hiding behind their white hoods & masks. The old preacher stepped out on the porch with the man at his side & said, “John knows that he is going to die. He asked me to come out today & write his last will & testament. He wants me to read it to you.” They all stood there in silence. The preacher continued as he read the will: “He wants to give his fishing rod to Pete, because he remembers the first bass he caught with it. He wants to give his rifle to James, because he remembers teaching him to shoot. He wants to give his shovel to Seth because he taught him how to till his land.”

And so it went: item by item the old black gentleman proceeded to give in total love to the very people who had come to take his life. Well, needless to say, the impact of his open generosity was more than even the hardened spirits of his prodigal sons could handle. One by one, shamed to the core by such unconditional love, the would-be executioners turned away in silence, burdened with the realization that they had sinned against their father, & yet he still loved them. No one was left.

The man’s little grandson had been watching this whole drama from a distance. After the crowd has dispersed, he ran up on the porch & said to his grandfather, “What kind of will was that?” The old grandfather answered gently, “It was the will of God, son, the will of God.”

Yes, it is the will of God, revealed in this beloved gospel, that no prodigal child should go unembraced by God’s unconditional, overflowing love. So this gospel is more than a wondrous story. It is an invitation! AMEN!