Fourth Sunday in Lent / March 10, 2013 / Resurrection Lutheran Church / Fredericksburg / Gospel text: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 / Message by Rev. Carol Kniseley / The God of 2nd Chances
I like what was sent out this week by our Stewardship Chair, Eric Carlson, to everyone on Resurrection’s email list. It was titled Stewardship Message #5…and ear-marked for today. It begins with a quote by Dag Hammarskjold.
“Goodness is something so simple; always to live for others,
never to seek one’s own advantage.”
If there was something that the younger son (alias: the Prodigal) needed to have been told….it was this. Not that he would have listened. Apparently the lad had his own ideas as to what he was “entitled” when it came to any kind of future inheritance. The thing was…he wasn’t willing to wait. He wanted it now…..and to everyone’s surprise….his own Father didn’t say “no”. Despite the fact that the man was still alive and kicking, he chose to give to the younger son…exactly what he asked for. And in doing so, he elicited a premature death, shall we say…and the relationship (by Law) had come to an abrupt end.
And so begins the story….that has been told over and over and over again by countless generations. For what exact purpose....continues to be the subject of on-going debate. Let me suggest that this is not a parable of a younger son and a parable of an older son…but indeed, the parable of a Loving Father…and his relationship to both.
A father who knew that according to Jewish custom of the day, the younger son would receive 1/3 of any inheritance…at the time of his father’s passing. Assuming that no condition is worse than death….and that no condition is better than life…Jesus proceeds to offer another opinion. There is a condition worse than death: to be lost. And there is a condition better than life: to be found. Case in point: today’s parable…as told by Jesus himself.
Neither son appears to have a clue as to what is most important in this life. Both could have told us that to be associated with “pigs” was to become as a Gentile…and outside of the covenant. And that the “pods” referred to in verse 16 were the long pods of the carob tree. Pods that were eaten by animals…and at times, by the extremely poor. Which both sons would have denied ever doing….because it was too offensive to even imagine.
It goes without saying that this parable was extremely offensive to those who did their best to live and breathe by the law. We are talking about the Pharisees and the scribes…who first heard these words spoken by Jesus. But timeless truth be told, grace offends. Unmerited Grace often offends our sense of fairness as revealed by the older brother once he learned of his younger brother’s return. Of course, let the prodigal return home! But where does it say to include a banquet with music and dancing? Yes…let the Prodigal return…but to bread and water…not fatted calf; in sackcloth…..not the best robe in the house; wearing ashes perhaps….but not a new ring; in tears over a life ruined….not in merriment; kneeling and begging for God’s forgiveness…not dancing with friends.
And so for the older brother the question has come down to this. Has the act of a celebration cancelled out the seriousness of sin…and repentance? What about us….would we have attended the party….if we lived right next door? The older brother wasn’t very pleased with what he saw…and in no uncertain terms….let his father have it.
The very same Father who in the beginning, we are told, not only HAD two sons, but LOVED two sons….reached out to two sons (verses 20, 28)…..and was extremely generous to two sons (verses 12, 22, 31). Perhaps it is because of the “competitive nature” of our society…as opposed to being one of “co-operation”…..BUT the common law of the land seems to be that in every case….there must be losers….if there are winners.
Even now, if we’re being completely honest with one another, do WE not find it difficult NOT to think: Jews…OR GENTILES, poor OR RICH, saint…OR SINNER, publican…OR PHARISEE, older son…OR YOUNGER SON. The thing is…God’s love is “both/and”….NOT “either/or”.
The embrace of the younger son…did not mean the rejection of the older. That’s not what Jesus said. Just as the love of tax collectors and sinners (by the way…that would be all of us)…does NOT at all negate love of Pharisees and Scribes (despite what they believe to be true).
Such is God’s love. In keeping true to Luke’s Gospel, a mighty reversal has taken place. From Luke 1: 52…”God has brought down the powerful from their thrones…and lifted up the lowly.” Is it really all that surprising to see that in the Father’s eyes, both sons are equally welcome to the party. The one who broke the Law….and the one who kept the Law….are welcome only by the grace of the Father.
It is not by coincidence that Jesus ends the parable the way he did. Everyone…awaits the response of the elder brother and so the parable remains “open-ended”. Each of us must finish the story as we see fit. Just remember, the scribes and the Pharisees ended this story by putting Jesus to death. How about us? What shall WE do…with this Jesus? Who refuses to be labeled and stuck in a box. For no amount of space can contain the amount of grace that God so freely offers on behalf of His Son. Such is God’s love….whether we chose to accept it or not. According to Jesus: God has already chosen…and forgiven…each one of us.