…while he was still far off, his father saw his son and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.

Even though a young man he had the look of an unhappy life. He may have been an “outside child” – the child of a man outside marriage. He started talking about his father. He didn’t know him.  He didn’t know him, he said but ‘At one time I knew his name and where he lived. It was in a state several states away. I just wanted to meet him – just to know who my dad was. So, I decided to go see him, just to meet him. I had his telephone number so I called him. I told him I wanted to meet him, when I would be coming on the bus and what bus station to meet me at.’

It was a long trip, he said. The man who was his father met him.

They talked a little. It was awkward.

Less than a day later he was back on the bus again, returning to where he had started. He never saw him again.

I don’t know how long I was involved in the Kairos prison ministry.

Sometimes it seems like it was a long time – and a long time ago.

Others times it seems like it was just yesterday and in just a few days I will be getting up early, driving my truck through Scott and Keo and finally England, and then turning down the rough, pot-holed road that leads to the front door of Tucker Prison.

My friend Jim Dalton got me involved in prison ministry, in Kairos.

It was not long after I had completed a long weekend retreat at Camp Mitchell – a beautiful place to visit for any reason. The retreat was called Cursillio – a short course in Christian living.

I suppose we’re not supposed to say “revival” in the Episcopal Church – and there was no large tent in the heat at the end of a long summer day- instead there were short, thoughtful talks about what it means to live the Christian life, and small groups to talk over we had just heard. To talk over with people you enjoyed being with – Some you already knew, some you had just met – some who have remained friends over the course of many years – Questions like what does it take to grow in your spiritual life other than taking up space in a church pew on a Sunday morning?

I think it was after one of those Cursillio weekends that Jim talked to me. He said he wanted to talk to me about helping out in a prison ministry. He said it was sort of based on Cursillio. It is called Kairos. “I don’t want you to give me a yes or no,” he said.  “I just want you to pray about it.”

Just pray about it.

I just want you to pray about going into a prison – a prison where they lock the door behind you – securely – to work with men who are there because they murdered someone, or robbed someone, or beat up someone – bad people we don’t think about unless we have to. People if we do think about, we think they need to be where they are and where they are, they need to throw away the key away.

I guess all these thoughts came back to me as I read our Gospel reading for today – the familiar story of the Prodigal Son.

The Kairos weekend is much like the Cursillio weekend. A series of talks, Scripture readings, then discussion in small groups. Small groups where you would get to know each other pretty well, pretty fast.

And always the story of the Prodigal Son.

And I can almost see, I can almost hear – Jim Dalton reading those familiar words…
Because for many of those years he would be the one to read that story on those Kairos weekends.

One of those years there was a young man, an inmate, who was at one of those Kairos weekends. I don’t remember the town he was from, somewhere in East Arkansas.

Sometimes you could tell when a man really wanted to be there, really had something that was bothering him, was really looking.

Over the weekend we both happened to be at the same table, the same small group. So, we would visit and share our thoughts and reactions to the talks various volunteers had given, the Scriptures we had heard read.

 Other than their name there was little we knew about each inmate other than what they choose to share. It may have been after we had heard Jesus’ words about the man who had two sons, this inmate, this young man started talking, really talking.


The inmate said he had been living with his mother and her boyfriend. It was not a good situation. The boyfriend was not much. He would beat his mother, beat him, and threaten the rest of them.

This went on for a while. One night it got so bad that he ended up killing the man. That was why he was here.


When he got out, he said he wanted to be a barber, get married, and have a family of his own.


I suspect that if I were to take a drive over to someplace in East Arkansas and I saw a barber shop I might say to myself ‘You know I need to get a haircut.” I’d stop and get out and go in. I might see someone I met one time and sit down in his chair and we’d get to talking.

How about them Hogs, he’d say and then he would start cutting. ‘Oh, by the way the wife and kids are doing fine…’

…while he was still far off, his father saw his son and was filled with compassion, he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.

Sometimes when we hear Scripture read, maybe sometimes when we read it ourselves, maybe as we stop and start thinking about it – really thinking about it – I guess you could call that “praying about it” – maybe that’s when we “hear” or realize – sometimes we are the “father,” we are the dad, we are the mom, we are the parent. We’re the good friend who listens, we’re the good neighbor who goes and does some small favor, fixes some small thing, that means so much to our neighbor.

Or maybe we are the one who just says some kind word…. who visits someone, who calls someone…who shows someone around the clothes closet and helps them choose…or maybe sends a good meal to someone who is sick or going through a bad patch in life…?

Or maybe – and this is the season of Lent when we really should look at ourselves, look at our lives, and ask ourselves some pretty tough, honest questions, are we really that one?

Do we need to be?

 …while he was still far off, his father saw his son and was filled with compassion, he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him….

Maybe you are one who has been living in a distant country.

Maybe you are one who would be traveling back home or just wants to go back home…

This Holy Season of Lent we welcome you home.


Richard Robertson