Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." So he told them this parable: "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. "Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, "Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
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. 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.
"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 friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!' 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.' "
Today’s reading, the parable or teaching story of the Prodigal Son, is one of the most famous lessons in the Bible. This story, along with the Good Samaritan that we read 2 weeks ago have shaped what it means to follow Jesus for almost 2000 years. Each one is only found in Luke’s Gospel. They challenge us to think about who our neighbors are (everyone) and who is included in God’s grace (again everyone).
The actual word Prodigal means extremely wasteful and the story centers on a young son who takes his inheritance early (this act was almost like killing his father, a nasty request that almost no one would grant). The young son abandons his family and social and cultural obligations (the very fabric of society then, the way the world worked), choosing to go, see the world, party and waste all of his inheritance. We get the sense that this is addiction, he was so caught up in the enjoyment and desires, that’s all he can think about. He does not remember he is dealing with a large but limited fortune. Out of money and options, he crawls home. He is hoping for the small mercy of being a hired hand but being home. What he did was not going to be soon forgotten. The father welcomes him home with great joy, sending servants to place a robe on his body and ring on his hand. These were public symbols that this betrayer and basically thief was fully restored as a son. What he did was forgotten, at least by the father and only decision maker that mattered in the household. We are left with the older son enraged, its just too much for him, he refuses to go inside, to celebrate, he refuses to accept his father’s act of grace and mercy.
I wanted to do something a little different this morning, something I have not really done before. I want to look at the prodigal son a few years later. Jesus leaves us not knowing a lot of things. We do not know if the older son comes in to celebrate, if he welcomes his younger brother home then and there or eventually. We do not know if the younger son does the right thing, works hard and uses the grace he has received to change his life. We do not know how the father will react to the older son’s justified but disobedient protest. This story centers on relationships and characters. So I am going to look at how they might have changed since this moment of welcome.
First, there is the older son. He was enraged when the younger son was given his inheritance, perhaps even telling the father “you know he is going to waste it all”. Now, after that his worst fears have come true, the elder son wants his prodigal little brother gone. He works on turning all of the servarts and people in the house against his brother. Telling the “can you believe it story” again and again to anyone who would listen. When this fails, he plots to murder his brother. After all, what if his younger brother saw their father’s mercy as weakness and does the same thing again. He only came home because he ran out of money and could not eat, he did not come home for a good reason, he’s the same person, he just needs a reup on the funding.
The older son probably believes his father his lost his mind. He does things that do not make sense. He is frustrated with his father’s unfairness, poor excuses and insane behaviors. He wants to get rid of his father as well. A person this blind to what’s going on, a person who makes such emotional, unfair and irrational decisions should not be in charge of anything. If the older son was to have anything left to inherit, now had to be the time to interfere. The father finds out about these plots and knows he must punish the older son. He has him detained, locked away in one of the houses until he can figure out what to do with him. Wasting money was one thing, but wasting grace could and would not be tolerated. Someone so obsessed with money and maintaining things, someone so unable to see grace, mercy and forgiveness as valuable, that person would destroy their family. Challenging the father’s authority, saying “I know better than you” , that would make everything collapse
The younger son cannot believe what has happened. He went home fully expecting to be rejected, chased off and being told “you are dead to us”. Even to be a paid servant was a long shot. To see his father run out to greet him, to feel the embrace as his father put his arms around him and kissed him. To have his well prepared, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' Interrupted by "Quickly, bring out a robe —the best one — and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet, that was something that he did not even consider as a possibility. The young son is determined to change, to not waste this gift of mercy and grace like he wasted the fortune.
The father, remains aware start to finish that these things are his decisions, not his children, neighbors or friends. We could imagine the lives of these characters going differently, the younger son could do it all over again, the older son could listen and follow his father’s example, forgiving and welcoming this brother home. For me there’s two things we need to remember for this story to matter. First, sin is real, there is something Jesus sets us free from by his death and resurrection. The fate of people is not naturally grace and heaven. Undeserving as we all are, we are forgiven from something, For this parable to teach us anything, we need to keep in mind
Second, this story is an illustration that God is not fair or just. That sometimes takes a minute to understand, that God is not fair, God is something better, God is merciful. In the story, Joy overwhelms laws, fairness or rules. Not only does the story show us something amazing about God, it also shows us something very human about people. As we read this story, we cannot help but feel like the older son has been cheated, punished for being very good, suffering for obeying his father and always doing the right thing. We want the father to punish the younger son, to hold him accountable for his awful actions and sins, at least somehow, to be fair. We also want God to not punish us, for us to not be held accountable for our sins. We want to be forgiven and hold others accountable. It does not work that way.