Trinity 3 – June 28th, 2009 – Luke 15:11-32
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Today we heard the parable of the Prodigal Son – and really, that’s a horrible title – because really, it’s not just about the one son. Rather, our Lord tells us who the parable is actually about – There was a man who had two sons. It’s about a father and his two very different children. That’s who this parable is about – and specifically this parable is about how this father deals with each of his sons – and from this we see and learn how God deals with us. So we are going to look at how the father deals with both his sons, and learn how this applies in our lives.
To begin, the younger son. The son whom we know well, who walks up to his rich father and says, “Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.” Think about this for a moment. Father, since you won’t hurry up and die, I’d like to have my share of the inheritance right now. Is there anything that would be more harsh and cruel to say to a father? This younger son is thinking only of stuff, of material things, of his wants and desires. Greedy and selfish. But here is the astonishing thing. The father actually gives the son what he wants. The father shrugs his shoulders and gives this no good son half of his property, half of what he had spent his life working hard to earn. Do you see the contrast here – the son who is full of greed, and the father who is over brimming with generosity.
Now, let us be honest for a moment. Are there not times where we can treat our Heavenly Father just as this younger son treated his father? Where we end up thinking about God only when we want something, only when our eye lights upon the neatest and newest do-hickey that we want? Of course there are. And even then, when we don’t appreciate God, does our God turn a cold shoulder to us? Does He treat us harshly? No, He still acts in love, He still gives us our daily bread, still does all that stuff that Luther talked about in the first article of the creed – and why? Because God’s blessings to us have never depended on whether or not we were good, or the merits of our desires, or even if we are asking for the right reason. No, He will take care of us as He sees fit, give us the blessings He desires for us – and all of this without any merit or worthiness in us – but rather simply out of His fatherly divine goodness and mercy. We see an example of this in this parable.
So the younger son gets the money and absolutely blows it. Squanders and is wasteful. He is utterly foolish. Wicked even. And everything comes crashing down upon him – he sees the error of his ways, although he has to wait until he’s sitting on a mound of pig slop wishing he could eat what the pigs are getting – and keep in mind, Jesus is speaking this parable to Jewish folks –being a pig slopper is pretty low. And so then the young son gets it in his head that he should head back to his father’s house and hire himself out as a servant – he even practices his speech – Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called you son.” So far, so good. What he says is accurate and true – and it sounds quite similar to what we confess. But then. . . he goes just a bit too far. Treat me as one of your hired hands. Do you see what he does? He makes plans to tell his father what to do, how to deal with him. The young man makes up his own plan of how he will get back in his father’s good graces, his own plan of salvation, as it were.
Now, again, does this not seem to describe the way our own lives can go? There’s not a one of us who hasn’t has that moment of looking back upon something we have done with utter disgust and shame – and rightfully so – because each of us is a sinner and we mess up big time. However, do we sometimes want to try to . . . fix things ourselves – to wave our hands around and try to come up with ways of “making it up”? Do we not sometimes take the attitude of “Well, I got into this mess, I guess I better get out of it.” We can end up trusting in our works, hoping in our plans, trying to rely upon ourselves – and when we do this, we forget two things. First, it’s silly. It was our own stupid plans that got us in trouble in the first place, why in the world would a new stupid plan of ours get us out of trouble. But when we are wracked with guilt and shame, we don’t always think straight. The second problem is much bigger. When we look to our works, our plans about how we are going to fix ourselves, bring ourselves back up to snuff with God, we forget something incredibly important. That’s not what God wants.
The example is in the parable. The young man starts to head home, and then we hear this: But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. Now, I want you to think like a first century Jewish man for a second. What are you wearing? It’s not blue jeans and boots, it’s not running shoes. You’d be wearing a tunic, you’d be basically be wearing something like my alb. If I want to run in this, I’d have to hike up the alb to run. High. And they didn’t wear pants – get the idea? And then you’d be tearing off over dirty ground. In sandal-style shoes. In front of your neighbors. In front of your servants. And why? To hug and kiss the miserable brat who basically had just wished you dead. What a spectacle! Do you see what the father does here? He utterly humiliates himself in his effort and desire to have his son back. And the son ignores the father, gives out his speech. The father brushes the son’s plans off and tells his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” I don’t want you to be my servant, you are my son. Wear the robes that a son should wear. Wear a ring – a sign of power and authority, because my son will have authority. And we will celebrate your return.
Now, consider friends, what God does for you. God utterly humiliates Himself – He humbles Himself to be born of a virgin in a stall, to hunger, to thirst, to suffer all, even to be hung exposed and naked upon a cross – and not so that He can hear your plans of how you can make things up to Him, but simply so that He might redeem you, restore you, take you back as His holy and forgiven child. God wants nothing to do with your plans of self-justification; rather, His plan is nothing but goodness and mercy for you. God is the one who does the work, who suffers all for you – and this is the wonder of His mercy and love.
But sometimes we don’t behave like the younger son – sometimes we end up behaving like the older son. You’ve got the older son, and he hears the feasting, and he asks what is going on, and he finds out his brother is home and that the father has welcomed him back. But he was angry and refused to go in. The older brother gets upset. Why should his lazy, worthless brother be welcomed in? In fact, when the father leaves the party to talk to the older son, the older son has harsh words – 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! The older brother is quite apt to point the finger. Yet consider him for a moment, consider his words. He’s not just attacking his brother. He’s harsh towards his father. He’s disrespectful. He says that the father doesn’t treat him with kindness. Says that the father isn’t good to him. I’ve worked so hard and you’ve treated me so poorly. The older son seems to think a lot of himself.
Likewise – sometimes when Christians fall into sin, it isn’t a matter of gross, open, public sin – sometimes it is more just a sin of pride, of arrogance. A sin where we think that we deserve things from God. Well, I’ve been a good Christian! So what? You do what you are supposed to do – whoopty-do. And yet we can become proud and arrogant in our works, and we can even become resentful against God – especially if someone else, if our neighbor gets a bit more than us, seems to do a bit better than us. We start comparing and contrasting – and we become vile.
But note how the father acts. First of all, did you note that the father left the party to head out to the older son? Such love and compassion. Even as the son rails against him, it is only because the Father had thought to seek the son out. And then the father both comforts and instructs the angry son – Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead and is alive; he was lost and is found.” You miss the point – you forget what blessings you have, for your eye has wondered. Remember again my love for you. And more over, this celebration for your brother isn’t about you – it’s about your brother, and we are right to rejoice over his return.
Likewise, consider how God treats you. What your neighbor has is no reflection upon you. The things the worlds tries to get you to focus on, they do not matter. Rather this – God is with you always, for you have been purchased and won by the Blood of Christ Jesus, and all that is His, life, salvation, forgiveness, He gives to you freely. Do you see how eager God is to provide these blessings to you – and again, not because of what you do or anything like that, but simply because that is who God is – the God who is quick to show love and mercy.
Dear friends, take time to ponder your own life, to consider the ways in which you might stray, like either of these two sons. But remember most of all that God your Father is quick to welcome, quick to forgive, quick to restore you to His House. He is eager to have a feast for you, be it His Holy Supper here in time, or to have you at the Heavenly Feast for all eternity. God is quick to love you, and His love for you endures. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +