By The Rev. Sherry Crompton
March 14, 2010
Read: Luke 15:1-3,11b-32
Jesus used parables to give us insight into His Father. We learn about the Father’s feelings in regard to our human condition in one parable in particular: the Prodigal Son. The title is a bit misleading though. It is also a parable about the other son and the forgiving Father, a Father who demonstrates extravagant love.
Let’s go through the parable.
Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me’. So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.” We’ll pause here.
The younger son was self-centered. And, it is typical of our human condition to be self-centered. It is really a sin of pride…to think we can make it on our own, all by ourselves. And now, think about the Father’s extravagant love. In handing over the younger son’s portion of the inheritance, the father allows himself to be metaphorically killed. The younger son lived as if his father were dead.
Let’s go on. Luke 15:17-24
“But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son’. But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.”
The younger son “came to himself”. When reality set in, and he was as low as he could be, and his pride got a good hard kick in the pants, he humbled himself and took the first steps on the road back home. We can learn from our mistakes and rise above them.
But, the younger son failed to realize his father’s own mercy. The father ran out to greet him. At that time it would have been highly unusual for a man of wealth and position to run in public, yet the father did. The father’s extravagant love is like God’s love for us. Our God is a forgiving God. Think about this illustration of forgiveness: When we turn toward God, God walks toward us. When we walk toward God, God runs toward us. When we run toward God, God flies toward us. This is an image of a God who requires only the slightest movement on our part to come to us with his forgiveness.
What extravagant love. The moment we decide, I will leave this place or this condition and go to my Father, He receives us back.
The parable continues….
Luke 15:25-30. “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friend. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’
Now, don’t we all have the older son in us somewhere. Can’t you feel his indignation, his jealousy, his anger. His father’s grace is a crisis for the older brother who thought that he had earned a place in his father’s house by his obedience. It was radically unfair that this younger brother of his could be welcomed back and welcomed back with a party! But by arguing with his father and refusing to go into the party, the break between the father and the older son is nearly as radical as the break between the father and the younger son at the beginning of the story. The older brother couldn’t stand a love that transcends right and wrong. By our standards.
We must not make the mistake of assuming that God’s ways with us are based on our own understanding of what is right and good. Isaiah 55:8-9 says: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”
The parable concludes:
Luke 15:30-32 Then the father said to him, ‘Son you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found’.”
With both brothers, the father, God, goes out to meet each one and asks him to come inside. Isn’t there a little of both brothers in each of us? Like the younger brother, we sometimes wonder if we’ve gone too far away to ever be invited back in—and like the older brother we sometimes wonder if we’ve done enough to earn forgiveness.
There is a song by Sarah McLaughlin entitled “Fallen” that touches on these thoughts: “Heaven bend to take my hand and lead me through the fire Be the long awaiting answer To a long and painful fight Truth be told I tried my best But somewhere long the way I got caught up in all there was to offer But the cost was so much more than I could bear. Though I’ve tried I’ve fallen. Heaven bend to take my hand”.
Heaven bend to take my hand. Our God is a forgiving God. A merciful God. The Father loves both sons, not according to what they deserve. He just loves them, more because of who He is than because of who they are. God invites us in to the banquet and into relationship with God and with each other. Notice that the story ends with the older brother still standing outside, listening to the party going on inside. Jesus leaves it that way, I think, because it is up to each one of us to finish the story. It is up to each one of us to decide whether we will stand outside all alone, being right, or give up our rights and go inside and take our place at the table. Amen.
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