Contributed by Jocelyn Breeland, Fairfax, VA


Warm-up Question

Have you ever depended on the generosity of strangers?

Craigslist Joe

In the 2012 documentary Craigslist Joe, a young man named Joe Garner decides to take a month away from his life and live entirely off the website During that month, everything he needed – food, clothing, transportation, a place to sleep – would have to come from craigslist. He found a cameraman on craigslist and the two set off from Los Angeles on their adventure.

shutterstock_38881042editOver the course of the month, Joe traveled from Los Angeles to New York City and back, with numerous stops along the way. (There are apparently lots of people on craigslist who are happy to offer rides in exchange for some company on the trip or help with driving.) Joe met people from all walks of life: students, artists, businessmen. He did some unusual and interesting things like taking a breakdancing class, doing standup comedy, and sharing an evening with a family of Iraqi immigrants. In one city he organized a toy drive for needy children. In another he helped a woman with cancer reorganize her living space. He even made time to go on a date.  None of the dangers you’d imagine were evident; Joe didn’t meet any scam artists or criminals or psychopaths. Everyone was kind and generous.

When he finally got back to his apartment, Joe was welcomed home by family and friends. He said the realization of how we all take care of each other was “the most inspiring thing.”

Discussion Questions

  • Could you do what Joe did, live for a month entirely off craigslist?
  • Joe Garner is young, white and male. Do you think his experience would have been different if he were a different age, gender or race?
  • We often hear or read about our society’s isolation, loneliness and lack of a sense of community in America. Does the story of Craigslist Joe challenge this conclusion?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, March 10, 2013 (Fourth Sunday of Lent)

Joshua 5:9-12

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.


Gospel Reflection

The tale of the prodigal son is one of the best-known stories in the New Testament. Perhaps this is because its principal message says something so important about God’s love for us: no matter how much we sin or otherwise wander away from him, he will always joyously welcome us back into his arms. The good news is not just that God’s love comes to us completely unearned, but that it remains steadfast even if we walk away.

This story also has important things to say about family relationships. How good parents allow their children to make and learn from their own mistakes, and these parents don’t hold those mistakes against them. How a sibling should understand that a parent can love his children equally, while not treating them the same. And how a son can approach a parent humbly and admit he was wrong.

There’s at least one more way to understand this story. Remember that this is one of three stories Jesus tells in response to criticism from the Pharisees and teachers of the law that Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them. Jesus’ critics believed that a person who associated with sinners would himself become unclean. But Jesus counters with an example that makes clear that, just as God welcomes sinners, so should we welcome others. We shouldn’t distance ourselves from people who have made mistakes in life. Instead, we should welcome them into our lives, our congregations, our communities. If we are to truly love one another as God loves each of us, then we have to learn to accept the mistakes others make. We can’t hold grudges; we have to be willing to forgive. What better way to thank God for the love he shows us, than to share that love with one another?

Discussion Questions

  • What one word describes what the story of the prodigal son is all about?
  • Does the father in this story behave like a typical father?
  • What attributes of God does the father demonstrate?

Activity Suggestions

Leaders, scour your local newspaper or online news ahead of time and collect a handful of stories that involve one person or group being wronged by another. It could be the victim and the perpetrator of a crime. It could be a politician abusing public trust. Maybe a business accused of harming the community (damaging the environment, sending jobs overseas). It could be any one of many stories of international conflict.

Divide the participants into small groups and give one of the stories to each one. Ask them to act out a reconciling conversation for that situation. Do this one at a time, so that the rest of the group can witness each scenario.

After each presentation, discuss as a group whether the conversation was realistic, then whether the participants reacted according to the lessons of the prodigal son.

Closing Prayer

Merciful Father, you have forgiven our debts, even though we have not always forgiven our debtors. Thank you for never, ever giving up on us. Thank you for being patient with us, and for always welcoming us home when we stray. Fill us with your reconciling spirit, so that we can embrace others – sinners like ourselves – and so they might know your love, through our actions. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.