When I was in USA a few months ago, I visited the Great Smoky Mountains national park in Eastern Tennessee. It is a beautiful place, and the most visited of the national parks in America, attracting millions of visitors each year. And most of those visitors first go to the main entrance and visitors station located in a beautiful valley surrounded by parkland. I stopped and watched one of the park-keepers who was working very diligently to pick-up and collect the plentiful rubbish that the many visitors left behind. I have no idea how long the older man had been working at his job, but the way that his gaze never lifted from the ground as he scanned ahead and around him for the next piece of garbage to be collected and his inaudible muttering of what I imagine to be something like “all this garbage destroys this nature” seemed a sad contrast to the natural beauty that surrounded us. I imagined that the natural beauty had long ago been forgotten by this man; his only attention and interest was the next piece of garbage that waited to be collected. How sad this, and yet how common an experience it is at least on occasion in our lives. We can be surrounded by the most beautiful and grace-filled environments, but like the scribes, the pharisees and the older brother in the parable today (Luke 15:1-32), we are caught up in the duties and obligations that we imagine are all-important. Although we most-often call the third parable that of the prodigal son, it is the father who is the most prodigal, showing extraordinary patience to both of his lost sons.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (7’32”). Sunday 24, Year C.