4 Lent C 3 21 2019
I love a story with a good ending. The first time I heard the story from Luke 15, was years ago when I was a little child in Sunday school. It was called The Prodigal Son. The children's version ended on a high note with the younger son running into his father's arms. Not much was said about the older brother who refused to join the welcome home party for his brother.
We were told to obey and respect our parents, so we wouldn't find ourselves in difficult situations like the prodigal. Scripture verses like, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right," and "Honor your father and mother." This is the first commandment with a promise (Ephesians 6:1-2). And finally, "Honor your father and mother; so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord is giving you" (Exodus 20:12). These lessons were drilled into our young minds and our parents reinforced them at home.
As I got older and began studying the scriptures for myself; I noticed some other titles for this parable are The Forgiving Father and The Two Sons.
What feelings were aroused in you when you looked at the picture on your 10 am bulletin?
Did you get a warm fuzzy feeling or was it feeling of sadness? I had a warm fuzzy feeling and a sense of relief. The father tenderly embraces his son as the crowd looks on.
- Some people were probably saying...AHHHH ...isn't that sweet!
- His baby boy has come home! The poor man was worried sick.
- That boy put his father through some sleepless night!
And of course, there are those who were unaware of the incident saying to themselves... Who is that dirty man our Lord is holding?
Pictures say a thousand words - DON'T they?
Our Gospel reading from Luke began with, "All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow, welcomes sinners and eats with them." If they truly knew Jesus, they would not have been surprised at his actions. Jesus welcomes all. I believe the tax collectors and sinners were clearly the lost and outcast among their community; and to whom Jesus made his connection.
Jesus knew the thoughts of the Scribes and Pharisees; and tells the crowd the parable about a wealthy man who had two sons. The young son is clearly inexperienced, eager to see the world, asks for his portion of the inheritance, goes off with high hopes and the rose-colored glasses. His behaviors resulted in him being homeless, friendless and hungry. We must give him credit though; before he goes back home, he goes job hunting. Sadly, the job he got did not work out, so he does the next best thing. He remembers his home, the life of luxury there, plans to return by asking his father for forgiveness, and is willing to beg his way back into the household even as a slave. All this time, his father is worried, constantly looking out, welcomes him back without any reservations and throws a lavish party to celebrate his safe return.
The parable does not end there at all. Because, he has an older brother who is at home doing his "right" thing, minding his manner and taking care of business. By law this estate is now his and everything is at his disposal. His younger brother has no claim now because he received his portion of the inheritance and lost it all.
Over the years, I began to take notice of the older brother. Check this out .... he comes home to find a party going on and is informed that his younger brother is back home. Wow!! Who is throwing this party? How come he was not a part of the planning? He is told that his father is throwing a party for his brother's safe return. According to Luke, he was angry and refused to join the party. Shouldn't he be happy his little brother is back, to help out? Oh, No! He was fit to be tied and lashes out in anger at his father.
I believe he felt lost to his father in a different way even though he was present all the time.
His father goes out to meet with him, just like he went out to meet his younger son. It is interesting that the father did not send a slave to tell him to come in. The older brother on the other hand is blind to his relationship with his father and talks about serving his father for years (that's the slave vs master relationship). He says, "I have never disobeyed your command." The older son saw his father as the person who gives commands for him to obey. This is certainly not the way the father wants his children to relate to him. This is a distorted view of Christianity and the Christian way of life. God is not a punisher. We are in relationship with a loving God.
The father begs his son to come in and join the family because the family unit was broken when the younger son was away. I believe the father was doing all he could to show his son that it takes more than just managing things on the estate to create a relationship of love and obedience. The older son needed to show his love for his family in a tangible way. The father appeals with the tender loving relationship he wants his son to enjoy. He kept using words like "my child', "your brother"; not my slave or my servant. The father is reassuring his son of his rightful place in the family; while the son on the other hand is distancing himself.
The father reassures his son that he is loved, not forgotten or overlooked in any way. The son is opening up to his father and expressing the void he feels by doing what he considers the right thing by staying home. He does not feel appreciated or valued. He expresses his feelings of disconnect from his father, when he says, "You have never given me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends." How sad!
This son was confused about the wealth he had at his disposal. He is now the sole successor and could have taken anything he wanted. He chose his friends over his family. He would rather have a party with strangers than celebrate with his father and brother.
Despite his son's angry outburst, the father lovingly reminds the son that, "All that is mine is yours". This son needs to change his relationship with his father and start behaving like an heir and a son. There was nothing he needed to do to earn his father's love.
So, who do you identify with in this parable? Is it the younger son, the older son, or the father? You may have been all three at some point in your life. We may have stood in judgment like the Pharisees, gone off and done your thing with negative consequences and get labeled as a sinner/prodigal; OR shown love and offered forgiveness to someone.
We don't have to be confused about our relationship with Jesus. We have a loving God who allows us the free will to try our hand at things and will lovingly accept us home into the family of fellow Christians. "Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sin is put away."
In our Worship today the table will be set; come and partake of the banquet that will be prepared!
This is your invitation to come and fellowship with the broken, the lost, and find redemption, healing, and wholeness. Amen
A sermon preached on the Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 31, 2019, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Poughkeepsie NY by Diaconal Postulant Julett Butler.