by Robert Brow
Our Gospel reading is usually called the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but it is actually a parable about two Lost Sons. And the elder brother is even more lost than the younger who had behaved so abominably.
Listen how the two sons are described. Read Luke 15:11-32
The younger son’s lostness was very obvious. He demanded the title deeds to half of the family farm. When these were in his control, he sold off that part of the property, and took off for the big city. There he squandered all the money on partying with fair-weather friends and sexual debauchery. When the money ran out he had to work tending a herd of pigs. That was viewed as the worst of occupations among Jews. He was often so hungry he wished he could eat the pigs’ food.
Like many children in that situation the only solution was to come home. At least he would get food like the hired servants and a bed to sleep on. To his astonishment his father was looking out for his return, ran to hug him, and ordered the servants to bring shoes for him to wear, clothed him with the best robe in the house, and put a family ring on his hand. That night his father ordered a party with the fatted calf for a barbecue, and hired a band for a dance. "This my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!" You can imagine the evening of joyful celebration.
So the younger brother was terribly lost and wonderfully found. But then there was the older brother. He never left home. He had another kind of lostness which took him further from God than the younger son who came home. When he heard the music and dancing at the party, he called one of the servants and wanted to know what was going on. "Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound" (15:25-27). The older son was enraged and refused to join the celebration.
Then we read that "his father came out and began to plead with him." But we can feel the self-righteous slavish attitude towards his father. "Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command." He could have enjoyed having his friends in for an evening, but he blamed his father for his own unhappiness, "You have never even given me a goat that I might celebrate with my friends." That was an absolute lie. Like so many Christians he imagined that you have to be miserable to be religious. As the father reminded him. "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours" (15:29-31).
Instead of love for his brother, there was gnawing jealousy. He was not at all pleased that the prodigal had returned safe from disaster in the far country.. At least his father should have made the boy pay for his wasted life. We can sense the attitude of hateful scorn. "When this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!" (15:29-30).
Jesus’s story is also a parable about God. As in the parable of the Talents, he is willing to take the risk of giving us responsibility. We have money, a home, creative skills, love to share, and lots of time. We can misuse what we are given. But when we fail he runs to welcome us back, hugs us, restores us, and is willing to give us another chance at a new life. He still wants the best for us, even if we have behaved abominably.
The parable makes us see that God is fun loving, and loves a party. Many Christians have dourly rejected music and dancing. But Tony Campolo wrote a wonderful book called The Kingdom of God is a Party. He pointed out that God the Father is like the father of that lost son who was welcomed home.
It would be wonderful if every service in our congregation could be that kind of a joyful celebration. And everyone of you is invited. That is what the bread and wine of our communion service is meant to picture every week.. But the best we can do here on earth is but a very pale reflection of the party in heaven.
Mollie and I enjoyed the dance some of us had last night at the Kissos Hotel. But I am looking forward when I am promoted to the dance of heaven with people of all nations. And nobody will be too sick or frail or creaky to join in. In this life we have no conception of the celebration that God has in mind for us. .
Where are you this morning? Are you still miserable in the far country? Or have you already come home? Are you still trying to please God by obeying rules like a slave? Do you rejoice when those who have been lost are welcomed to this congregation? Or do you feel they should be made to pay before we accept them?
If you are not basking in all the love that the Father has for you, I invite you to communion this morning. We are celebrating with bread and wine as Jesus told us. Nobody is too bad and too lost to come and share with us. And strangely Jesus gave his life to be the fatted calf that was killed for the barbecue.
Prayer: Jesus we thank you for this wonderful story. Help us to accept your welcome home. Free us from slavish legalism. And help us to love our brothers and sisters in the way you love them.