2022-03-27 Lent 4
Updated: Apr 3
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!
Parable of the fig tree last week and the parable of the Prodigal Son today! This is a familiar and beloved Bible teaching indeed. Although, it probably should be called the parable of the loving, patient, forgiving-father of the two-stooges! But that really doesn’t roll off the tongue like the ‘Parable of the Prodigal Son!’ This teaching from Jesus is an amazing lesson in the grace, mercy and love of God our Heavenly Father. And, it is an incredible lesson in how that amazing grace is experienced by two very different people who happen to be brothers.
And that is really the gold nugget of this story. God’s love is the same. It is constant. It is eternal. It is long-suffering. It is patient. It is kind. It keeps no record of wrongs. But how that love is received is what changes. To one person, His grace is like a campfire, providing much needed warmth and light. To another person, this same exact grace is an all-consuming, raging inferno of burning anguish! How can this be? Let’s find out.
A Dad has two sons. The younger one, full of pith and vinegar, has the fortitude to say “‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me’” (LK 15:12). That is to say, “Dad, keel over and die and gimme all your money! Give me my inheritance now because I wish you were dead!” This is in and of itself absolutely unbelievable! What son could possibly be so cruel to his Father? This is an egregious sin! It throws the 4th commandment of honouring your Father and Mother right out the window! It smashes it into oblivion! Perhaps the only more egregious thing is that this Father actually does what his dead-beat son asks. He “divided his property between them.”
And then, the story takes an even worse twist. Dead-beat the younger gathers up his newfound wheelbarrow full of money and travels off into a far country. Far from his Father’s grace and provision. Far from everything he knew. Far from everything that helped him and supported him in life. And in that far away country of sin-city he squanders yonder wheelbarrow. The imagery of the word ‘squander’ evokes a harvest time visual of separating the wheat from the chaff. But instead of letting the wind carry the chaff away from the grain and gathering it all up, instead, this crazy fool of a son lets the wind scatter the harvested grain into the wind, rendering all the hard work of harvest for naught! He “squandered his property in reckless living” (15:13).
Lo and behold, after the well of daddy’s money had gone dry, a nasty famine showed up to pour hand sanitizer into his wound! He was in need. He was hungry. He was becoming desperate. He gets a junker job in that far off country sloppin’ the hogs. This was the lowest of the low. A Jew, forced to feed an unclean animal like pigs!? It was the worst! But perhaps even worse was the fact that he was so hungry he was drooling just thinking about eating the hog fodder. If anyone could have used a handout it was butthead-the-younger! But “no one gave him anything” (15:16) the Scripture says. There is no grace, no mercy, no help to be found in sin city.
But then! But then comes the TSN turning point of the story. This dunce of a son has a moment of soul searching. The scriptures say he “came to himself” (15:17). We would say he ‘snapped out of it’ or he ‘hit rock bottom.’ He arrived at a place of utter desperation and he questions himself: “What have I done?! I’m an idiot! I’ve ruined my life! I’ve made a complete and utter mess of everything!” Perhaps we ourselves have been at such a place in life. We can relate to this younger son. We’ve hit rock bottom and there’s nothing we can do to fix what we wrecked. The only thing left to do is repent. That is, to confess our sins from the heart and then amend our lives. It means to try to heal the relationships we broke. It means to right the wrong, if it can be, no matter the cost.
Now this younger son makes up his mind to go to the only place that might still offer him some help. Back. To. Daddy. How it will go, who knows?! But it is his only option. He concludes that the people who serve him have lots of food, which is better than starving to death. So he writes down his repentance-speech on a napkin: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants” (15:18). He rehearses it a few times and then makes his way back from that far off country, back to his Father’s house of many rooms.
But then! But then there comes the second TSN turning point of the story! “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (15:20). A man of this father’s status would never have run anywhere back in the day. Running was for children and slaves. Yet he is moved so deeply in his heart of hearts by his lost son who is now found again, he runs. Junior whips out the napkin and starts in on the speech: “‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son’” (15:21) But that’s as far as he gets! This all compassionate father instantly forgives his derelict, no-good, deadbeat, death-wishing, inheritance-squandering, pig-pod-feeding, sin-city-loving, screw up of a son! Instead of a job as a slave labourer, the red carpet is rolled out. Robe! Ring! Shoes! Kill the fattened calf! Eat! Celebrate! It’s party time! “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate” (15:24).
Here we see an example of God’s incredible grace to sinners. Sinners like us. He is rich to forgive even the worst of sins. We wished Him dead - and to death on the cross He goes for us. He dies that we may live. He pardons our iniquity. He passes over our transgressions. He gives the faithful the entire inheritance of His kingdom. He casts all of our sins into the depths of the sea, and removes them from us as far away as the east is from the west. We are this miserable schmuck of a younger son in our sins. And yet to us, God’s grace is warmth. It is light. It is forgiveness and salvation.
Now this leads us to the third TSN turning point of the story. As we know, this Dad has two sons. And the other son, the older, wiser and better looking of the two, was out working in the field. He’s on his way home after a long hard day and as he arrives back home he hears music and people dancing. It’s a massive party and celebration going on back at the ranch! He takes out his smart phone and checks his calendar. Nothing scheduled. No birthdays. No Lutheran Potluck Dinners. What could possibly be going on? He asked one of the servants what was shaking. “‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound’” (15:27) he says.
The warmth and light of the grace and love this Father shows to his younger son is interpreted as a raging inferno to the older son! Instead of being likewise compassionate, he goes ballistic! He’s filled with an all-consuming, white-hot wrath and disdain both for his father and his father’s other son. He refuses to join in the celebration. So this loving dad comes out and tries to make peace with him. Junior the first goes off on Papa: “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’” (15:29-30). This ‘son of yours,’ not my brother, but this son of yours who is an abject failure and an utter waste of skin shows up, the red carpet is rolled out! This makes zero sense! This older son feels completely unappreciated in this rank case of injustice.
Who is this elder son? Who is this ungracious one who will not forgive, who will not celebrate and be glad when the lost is found? Who is he? In the original context it was Jesus throwing a zinger at the Pharisees! The religious leaders of the day who wouldn’t join the joyful meal of tax collectors and sinners. These were the people in His sights. He drops the hammer on them hard. They weren’t seeking God’s righteousness like they claimed. They were being small-minded, sulky jerks. Who is this elder son? Perhaps, he is us. Perhaps we have been likewise in a position to forgive and be joyful over a sinner who repents but would not. Perhaps we have demanded justice instead of mercy and forgiveness.
And so we return full circle to the nugget of this parable. To the humble, repentant sinner, God’s amazing and incredible grace is warmth and light. To the self-righteous, judgmental jerk, that same grace is a burning inferno of hell fire! And here, the parable ends, rather suddenly. What did the older son do in the end? Did he come in and join the party or did he remain outside, ignoring the entreating love of the Father? Like all good parables, it becomes an interaction of soul searching for us too. The lost son had come home. The sinners and tax-collectors were all returning to the love of the Father. Our Lord’s parable invites us to reflect and consider: which child will we be? Amen!