O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
This is NOT the parable of the prodigal son
This is NOT the parable of the prodigal son
Based on Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Preached on March 10, 2013
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Fellow baptized saints, how many times have you heard the parable of the prodigal son? Well, you've never heard it this way before. Because this morning we are NOT exploring the parable of the prodigal son. For this parable isn't really about the son. It's about the father. A man who had two sons. This morning we are going to hear the parable of the scandalous father. A father that is so loving and gracious that nobody knows the next crazy thing he might do.
But how did it all get started? Jesus was preaching about the kingdom of God, and the outcasts of society, the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him. This ticked off the religious leaders, the Pharisees and the scribes, who grumbled that He was receiving sinners and eating with them. That led Jesus to tell this parable.
There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, "Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me." Because I don't really care about you. All I want is your money, and I don't want to have to wait for you to die to get it. You're dead to me already, so just give me my share of the money.
Who says that? There may be many people in our world who think this way, but they would never say such a thing for fear that they might not get the money. Because that's exactly what should happen, isn't it? The father should have looked his son in the eye and said, "You just lost your inheritance." But that's not what happened, is it?
This radical father did something that no father has ever done before. That no father in their right mind should ever do. He granted the request. He gave him the inheritance. This father is so outrageously gracious that he subjected himself to shame in his community in order to give to his son. He was willing to look like a fool in front of everyone in order to show his son his love.
But the father wasn't the only one the community raised their eyebrows towards; this greedy son had made himself into an outcast. By wanting his father dead, he had brought shame upon his entire community. But he didn't care. He gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country where he could make a fresh start. He was finally free from the constraints of home. He could create his own life here. He could make his own name.
But we know what really happened. In that distant land, the younger son squandered his property in reckless living. He continued on his careless path. Bending the rules when they didn't suit him. Lowering the bar so it wasn't so hard to get over it. So he could still tell himself he was a good person. But he could only do that for so long. Eventually the real rules caught up with him, and when a severe famine arose in that country, he was left with nothing. No money. No friends. No family.
And then things got worse. When this poor, lost son finally hit rock bottom, he was standing in a field by himself feeding pigs, hungering for the vile, valueless food that he had to give to them. Now feeding pigs was a lowly job for anyone, but for the Jew it was the lowest. Pigs were ceremonially unclean. Jews didn't eat them, let alone lower themselves to feed them. In his mind, this would have been dirtier than cleaning prison toilets. Enough was enough. Something had to change.
"When he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise 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 as one of your hired servants."
Standing there with the pigs, the younger son remembered his father's grace, but after years of sin and reckless living he understood it in a very twisted way. His father had outrageously given him his full inheritance, he thought, and his father always gave the hired servants more than they deserved. Maybe he could make a bargain with his father. Maybe he could work for his father and earn back his father's grace. Maybe he could keep his pride intact, and pay back the money he had so foolishly squandered.
Jesus set this parable up perfectly, didn't he? For if He had ended the parable here, the grumbling Pharisees would have been happy, for this was exactly what they taught. They taught that these sinful outcasts that Jesus had received needed to show through their good deeds that they deserved to be readmitted into the community. But the Pharisees were in for a big surprise, because the parable is not about the son. It is about the father.
The young son arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. The son wasn't looking for the father. The father was looking for the son. Hoping that one day his son would come home. Sitting by the window with his eyes scanning the horizon. And from the moment he saw him, before the son could even say a word, the father was filled with compassion. The son had not repented. The father had forgiven. The son did not run. The father ran. He cast off his dignity once more and ran to meet his approaching son. He went out to get him. To spare him the embarrassment of entering the community. To bring him back into the safety of his home. To his very table. Not to be his hired servant, but to be his son.
The young son had rehearsed what he was going to say many times on his long trip home. He had practiced and practiced. He must have had it down perfect. But as his father's running body struck him in an embrace, and he felt his father's lips kissing his travel-worn face, it all came unravelled. His pride melted away under his father's love, and he realized the truth for the first time. This wasn't about the money that was lost. This wasn't about striking a bargain. This was about him and his father. This was about their dead relationship, about the unbelievably shameful way he had cut himself off from him. There was nothing he could do to fix this. There was nothing he could offer. So he told him plainly, "I am unworthy."
"But the father said to his servants, 'Bring 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.'"
The flood of the father's grace had only just begun. He wanted his son to know the full extent of how he felt towards him. No, his son wasn't worthy, but that didn't change how he felt. He wanted everyone to know - this was his son - his son was back. He covered his shame with his robe of honor. He restored his status with the household ring. He sacrificed the fattened calf and held a feast for the entire community that his son may be reunited with them all. The radical love of the father covered over all of the unworthiness of his son. His grace had made him a son again.
But this scandalous father had two sons. Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.' But the older son was angry and refused to go in.
The outrageous grace of the father made his older son angry, it caused him to reveal how he really viewed all his time in his father's house. He was a slave, not a son. He was following the rules, but reluctantly, waiting for his father to die so that he would be rewarded for his good deeds. He didn't want the love of his father. He wanted to be recognized for what HE had done. He thought he deserved better, and cared nothing for his father's grace. He would not go to the love feast. He would not go in.
Here we see the final scandalous act of this loving father. He, the host, left his own party and begged his older son to join him. He showed him the same grace he had shown his younger son. He said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.' I will give you whatever you want - just be with me. Come to my feast. See me as your reward. But we aren't given the ending. Will the older son repent and join the feast? Or will he continue to reject the father's love and grace, and stay away from the feast?
In one fowl swoop, our Lord calls the sinners and the religious leaders to repent, like these two sons with their loving father, and He does the same for us today. For the Lord wants us all to see ourselves in both of these sons.
You are the younger son. Your thoughts, words and deeds show that you don't care about your heavenly Father, that it would be easier for you if He were dead. You've taken this life He has given you and you have squandered it in reckless living. You have bent His rules when they didn't suit you. Lowered His bar to make yourself feel better. You have found yourself standing in a field with pigs, and have even tried to strike a bargain with God. Tried to tell Him how he ought to treat you.
But despite all this, your heavenly Father loves you in a scandalous way. His love is absolutely shameful! For though you treat Him like you do, He gives you the thing dearest to Him - His Son. His Son who loves Him purely. His Son who enjoys His presence. His Son who shares all things with Him. He sends this Son to be publicly shamed for you. He sends this Son running to you with the open arms of the cross. He sends this Son to embrace your sin and sacrifice Himself in your place. Reckless. Outrageous.
Before you ever say a word to Him, He has already forgiven you. For He went to that cross to spare you the embarrassment your sin deserves. He came forth to bring you safely home to His heavenly kingdom, to His own table - not to be His hired servant - but to be His son. And when the reality of this message makes you break down in the only true words you could possibly say, "I am unworthy," He wraps you in the robe of your baptism - the robe of Christ's righteousness, and prepares you to eat the sacrifice that reunites you with the whole community - the sacrifice He made and now offers to you from this table - even the body and blood of His own Son.
And, you are the older son. You may not get angry when you see a new face here in your father's house, but are you filled with joy? Do you run out to meet them and make them an honoured guest? You are the older son. You belong to a church that has trouble finding volunteers, for you are reluctant to serve. And when you do serve it is like a slave, as a matter of duty, not like a son who is full of joy. You figure, "I've gone to church my whole life. I've done my share of helping with council and VBS and Sunday school. I deserve better than to have to keep serving my Lord."
But despite all this, your Lord, the king of heaven, left His own party to come and beg you to join Him. It is absolutely embarrassing the way your heavenly Father loves you. Even before all the angels of heaven, He pleads for you to hold Him as your closest treasure. 'Son,' He says to you, 'you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. Come, share in my joy, come to my feast.'
Yes, we can see ourselves in both sons. But the parable is not about the sons. It is about the scandalous love of the father. The outrageous, embarrassing love He has for you. He receives you. He wants to eat with you. He even makes Himself the feast that there is no doubt. Come and share His joy - He begs you. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr