By Alice E. Gerard
Stuffed shells, meatballs and a father's unconditional love for his son were on the menu at Wednesday's Lenten luncheon, the first in a series of five luncheons held at Trinity United Methodist Church, 2100 Whitehaven Road.
The Lenten luncheons, an annual event, are organized by the Grand Island Ministerium. Each week, a different member church of the Ministerium hosts the luncheon, with presentations by the churches' pastors centered on a common theme. This year, each week, the theme is Biblical parables about forgiveness and conversion.
A parable is a short story designed to teach a truth, a religious principle or a moral lesson. The story is offered in the form of an allegory, a story that readers can interpret to find a moral truth. In the Bible, Jesus taught many lessons in the form of parables.
This week's parable was presented by the Rev. Paul Nogaro of St. Stephen R.C. Church. Nogaro chose to discuss the parable of the prodigal son from the Gospel of St. Luke. It is the story of a man and his two sons.
"It's a powerful parable and is one of my favorite parables," Nogaro said. The younger son was known as the "prodigal son." "Prodigal," Nogaro explained, means "wasteful or lavish." The older brother, on the other hand, stayed home and worked hard.
"I am an older brother," said Nogaro. "Younger brothers always get on your nerves."
The younger son, said Nogaro, "was neither a good nor a thoughtful person. When he asked his father for his inheritance, he was actually saying to his father, 'I wish you were dead, but you're not, so I want my inheritance now.' (The father) was a tolerant father. Most parents would kick you out for doing that."
The younger son had no concept of the finite nature of his inheritance. Unfortunately, he discovered that too much dissolute living resulted in poverty.
"My response was, 'What were you thinking? You had no job and no work," Nogaro said. At this point, the younger son decided that it was time to get a job. He was hired to tend swine, a job that went against the young man's religious prohibition against eating pork. "He could go no lower," Nogaro said. The young man was so hungry that he wanted to eat the slop that was fed to the pigs.
"This is not delicious," Nogaro said. "Not like stuffed shells and cake."
Famished and impoverished, the younger son returned home, practicing what he was to say to his father as he walked. "I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.'"
"One has to question his (the younger son's) motivation. Did he really repent or was hunger his first motivation?" asked Nogaro. The father, however, didn't need to hear anything. The father, Nogaro explained, loved his wayward son unconditionally. "His son broke his heart, but he still greeted his son in an emotional moment." This, Nogaro said, is an example of unmerited love and grace. The reunion scene is captured in a painting by Rembrandt, said Nogaro, titled "The Return of the Prodigal Son."
The older brother, who was busy in the field, heard the commotion, and rushed to see what was happening. He was angry and said that he never got a party, even though "not once did I disobey your orders."
"That's a bold statement," Nogaro said, "and hard to believe." The father is patient with the older brother, as well, telling him "everything that I have is yours."
Nogaro said that the story depicts the unearned love, grace, and forgiveness that God shows people. He said that many stories have used that theme, including Henry Nouwen, who wrote a book, titled "The Return of the Prodigal Son," based on the Rembrandt painting. Even children's books present a type of prodigal son story. An example is "Where the Wild Things are," by Maurice Sendak, about a boy who went off to be with the wild animals and, when he returned to his home, "his meal was still hot," an example of true parental love.
The next Lenten luncheon will be held at noon on March 4. The Rev. Larry Baird of Trinity United Methodist Church will give a presentation on "The Shrewd Manager." The cost of the lunch is $5.