“The Boy Who Made Bad Choices” By Rachael Flanagan, Fiat Ventures

Flickr User Chiceaux Lynch

Fourth Sunday of Lent

There once was a daddy who had two sons. One son was a good boy and always made good choices. The other son was naughty and made lots of bad choices. One day, the boy who made bad choices went to his dad and said, “Dad, I hate you. I am going to take your money and run away.” So the boy ran away to make a lot more bad choices. Eventually, the boy got hungry, and his clothes got dirty and smelly and he couldn’t wash them. He became lonely and sad. He thought to himself, “Maybe if I go home, my dad will let me work for him. At least then, I’ll be able to eat some food and clean my clothes. I’m going to give it a try.” So the boy went home, expecting his dad to yell at him and give him a punishment, but when the dad saw his son coming down the driveway, the dad became very happy! He ran to the smelly son and hugged him and said, “Let’s have a party! Get out the fruit snacks! Grab some of those Avengers Ice Pops from the freezer. My boy came back! ” He turned to his son and said, “I forgive you for all of the bad choices you’ve been making, and I’m not even going to give you a punishment. I am happy you came home because I love you.”

This is the way I told the story of the Prodigal Son to my 2 and a half year old last night, while sitting on his Elmo bedspread in our PJs, looking at the picture in the Illustrated Children’s Bible. My son had many questions.

“Mommy, is he a wizard?” pointing at the long-bearded father in the picture.

“Um no, I don’t think so.”

“Mommy, he didn’t get a punishment for making bad choices?”

“Nope, the daddy said ‘I forgive you.’” I could see the wheels turning in his head, ready to store up this story and use it against me one day when I’ve put him in time-out for throwing cereal across the kitchen, or some other nonsense.

“Why?”

“Because this daddy is like God the Father, who is merciful to us and forgives our sins even though we don’t deserve it.” At that point, I clearly lost his interest and he began flipping through the pages to find the Lazarus page (whom he wondered why he was dressed like a mummy for Halloween).

When people asked Jesus questions about why he did what he did (hang out with sinners and show them mercy, for instance), I wonder if Jesus thought to himself, “How can I put this in a way that they’ll understand…ah yes, I will tell them a story.” I wonder if he felt like me, trying to figure out how to tell a story to my toddler.

I’m grateful for all of the parables and analogies Jesus gives us though; because who am I kidding?  I like stories just as much as my son. I can hear the words that we have forgiveness because Jesus died for our sins and gave us salvation, but sometimes it can go in one ear and out the other without making too much of an impact.  But when I think about the story of this family, about the father’s unconditional love for his wayward son, or about the jealously of the older brother and how sometimes I relate to him, it makes it resonate so much more.

I think a great exercise for us this Lent would be to take a spiritual concept, and think about how we would explain it to our little cousins, or the neighbor kids we babysit for.  Maybe it’s one of Jesus’ parables you’re putting into language they can follow.  Or maybe it’s something from St. Paul’s letters that you want to convey in a story, like dying to self and putting others first.  When I did this during bedtime, it really made me think about how well I myself understood the story and Jesus’ message of mercy for us.  And how great that mercy is!

So kill the fatted calf! (Or the fatted eggplant, if you’re a vegetarian.) Let’s have a party, because this is very good news – in fact, the best news ever.

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