By Hilary Scheppers
In today’s gospel, we hear how the son takes his father’s wealth and squanders it. We hear how the son wastes the father’s fortune on lavish and material things that amount to nothing. When he finally comes home, he does not lie about where he has been or what he has done. He fully admits to his sins saying, “I no longer deserve to be called your son” (Luke 15:21). He returns as a lowly servant, begging and repenting.
What does the father do? Does the father start a war? Make him serve his justice by sending him to sleep in the stables? No. In his compassion, the father rejoices. This is the love that Jesus offers. When we return to Christ with our confessions, he reconciles. He restores us. He celebrates. We have been found. This is the parable Jesus tells us so we can see the love He provides.
When I came back to Minnesota last Spring, after 10 years of living my life apart from my family, going to college and working in far away cities, I arrived home almost penniless. In more ways than one, I felt like the prodigal daughter. Not that I had wasted my wealth, but that I had not yet fully reached my potential with my gifts. Wasn’t I supposed to flourish then return home?
I didn’t know where to begin. I had completed my Master’s degree; I had spent three months volunteering with an avian conservation research project in Peru, and I was back in the states recklessly running around as a semi-people pleaser with my head in a million different directions. I was no longer practicing my faith and I had serious doubts about my future.
One day I stopped off at a wildlife refuge to recenter my thoughts. I opened my journal to write and nothing came. Then a stranger on a bench nearby struck up a conversation. I asked him what he was reading and he said the book of John. In that moment, he shared John 15:5 which says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.” This stranger told me he was praying that whatever he had to accomplish today would be done in connection to Christ.
I was shocked. How could God speak to me so clearly? And I cried. How could he articulate what was in my heart? How could it be that everything up until this moment was an attempt to direct me back to Christ? How could it be that, despite my abandonment and rejection of faith, Christ still wanted me? And only now, in this most obvious message, I had heard His call to return. It was a little miracle, an invitation, to come back to the church, and I took it.
Lent is the perfect season for us to return. Return, return, return. Before I returned, I was feeling like I would never bear authentic fruit, but now I feel “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). Do not give up on your fast or almsgiving, and definitely do not give up on your prayer. In a recent confession, I shared my doubts and the priest replied, “Try harder. Lent is a great time to try a little harder. Do not give up.”
One last thing about the parable of the lost son because if you’re like me, you have empathized with the obedient and dutiful son who remained at home working the field. In hearing the other son’s response, we see a lack of justice. A familiar feeling between siblings when one gets a special feast and the other more “responsible one” gets (surprise) more work to do. But the father says, “everything I have is yours” (Luke 15:31).
You who have been thrifty, saving, sacrificing, suffering, obedient, dutiful and hard-working—you have been walking with Christ, tending his vineyard all along. You already have the kingdom at hand. Everything is yours to have. But your brother has returned, “he was lost and has been found” (Luke 15: 32). We welcome our family members to return to faith, to join us in building the kingdom. We welcome our sisters and brothers to return to Jesus, to reconcile their sins and experience the unconditional love that is possible.
This Lent, how are you returning to Christ? How are you personally restoring our holy family? How are you following Jesus’ command: “love one another” (John 15:17)? Whatever wall you have placed between you and Christ, he has already knocked down. Walk toward Him in the desert. He will provide a way to restore all things.
A line to chew on from the true vine:
“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7)
About the author:
Hilary Scheppers is a religious poet and writer from Minnesota. She holds an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and a B.A. in Humanities/Theology from Loyola Marymount University. Her poetry and nonfiction appear or are forthcoming in Parabola, Apofenie, Breadcrumbs, and elsewhere. Her favorite bird is either the mourning dove or the oropendola.
So happy for you, Hilary! Welcome home to Jesus’ One True Church! I love your story and the way God used that man to bring you back.
Beautiful words from a child of God. Blessings to you on your journey.
Very touching & inspiring story, Hilary. Thank you for sharing your journey.
I loved reading how God used the stranger to bring you back.