by Ellen Sims
On fifth Sundays our worship service is abbreviated and is followed by a potluck luncheon with discussion around a particular theme. We observed International Transgender Day of Visibility today and heard one of our church council members, a transgender woman, and one of our teens, who is gender-fluid, share their brave and beautiful stories. Because our worship service was brief to accommodate the luncheon, I responded to the day’s Gospel reading, Luke’s story of the “prodigal son,” with my own reworking of that beloved parable. The prism metaphor has special meaning for our congregation, which founded a support group called Prism United for LGBTQIA+ teens in our community.
A MODERN PARABLE REFRACTED THROUGH A PRISM
No wonder Jesus taught mainly through parables. As I said last Sunday, multifaceted parables invite us to enter them in various ways and recognize our lives in all their varied colors and perspectives. Think of today’s parable as a prism—refracting multiple meanings for deeper understandings. So look at or listen to the parable again from a fresh angle:
There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, I need to tell you something about myself that I’m afraid you won’t want to hear.” The father turned away from the anxious face of his 17-year-old son. “If this has anything to do with the dress your mother found in your closet or the makeup in that shoebox under your bed, I don’t want to hear it. Don’t look so surprised that we’re on to you. You’ve been dropping hints for several years. We are a God-fearing family and do not condone your behavior.”
“It’s not ‘behavior,’ Father. It’s who I . . . .”
The father interrupted, “We are deeply concerned, and so is your brother. We will not support you in ruining your life. When you turn eighteen, you are on your own, Son—unless you see the error of your ways.”
A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant city, and soon he spent every cent he had, and he began to be in need. Twice he called home after being kicked out of both a women’s shelter and a men’s shelter. Twice his father hung up on him after ascertaining the “son” was still insisting he was the father’s only daughter. So she—yes, let us say “she,” this lovely, all-alone 17-year-old girl—SHE went and HIRED HERSELF OUT.”
And what happens next?
What happens next may be, in part, left up to us.
This parable refracts into many meanings. The father in my version is obviously not God. The father is, instead, someone who genuinely THINKS he is speaking for God. The daughter in this version is NOT a child in need of forgiveness. This young woman is in need of the father’s repentance, acceptance, love.
And where are WE in this parable? Perhaps we—-some of us literally—-are greeting transgender and gay and lesbian and bisexual and gender-fluid teens on the other side of our parking lot and giving hope to “prodigal sons and daughters” in our city. Having birthed Prism, you continue to support its work of welcome to teens who often feel unwelcome in many places, even at home.
Remember, the word “prodigal” does not mean “sinful”—-it means “excessive, extravagant.” It can also have the connotation of excess that is wasteful. But “prodigal” is a glorious virtue when that adjective describes a spendthrift God, a flamboyant God—and the people of God who do not count the cost of doing good and loving all. Some argue that Luke’s parable should be known as the parable of the Prodigal Parent, because it points us to the Prodigal God who loves excessively. In that vein, let us be known as God’s Prodigal People—who especially care about those who have not been understood or included or affirmed.
With our lives let’s write an ending to the story of the Prodigal Daughter—concluding with her extravagant welcome by a Prodigal People.
See these two videos about Prism United, serving LGBTQ+ youth in Mobile, Alabama: