Sunday, March 31, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 & 2 Cor. 5:16-21
Today’s gospel lesson focusses on a well-known parable normally referred to as The Prodigal Son. Prodigal is an odd word. What does it actually mean? When I looked it up in the dictionary it gave a few definitions. It said spending money or resources freely and recklessly, wastefully extravagant, and having or giving something on a lavish scale. So who in the parable today is being wastefully extravagant? Let’s explore that.
The parable known as The Prodigal Son is one of the longest parables Jesus ever told. It must have been important or he wouldn’t have gone into such great detail – details like just how lost some people can get. The youngest son was so self-centered that he wanted his father’s inheritance before his father even died! He couldn’t wait. He wanted his money and he wanted it right away, not to go away to college or invest in the future, but to blow it all away in sinful and selfish living. He certainly was a prodigal son wasting and spending the money freely and recklessly. The younger son was getting further and further lost. He was a long way from home, yet he didn’t even realize it. Until he was out of a job, out of money, starving, and homeless. In fact, he was so destitute that he was forced to tend to pigs (a job no respectable Jew would ever do since pigs were considered unclean). But this young man had stooped that low. He was really lost. Until like Dorothy in the Wizard of OZ, he found himself saying, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” And off he went – practicing the speech all the way home of what he would say to his father of how he had messed up.
But before he even had a chance to say those words to his father, his father saw him “while he was still far off” (which means he must have been looking for him) and ran to him. He put his arms around his son and kissed him and planned for a huge celebration. That was outrageous! No respectable Jewish father would embarrass himself like that especially after what his son did! Is that what any respectable parent would do if their son or daughter took all their inheritance and threw it all away? If they took all their money and gambled it away at a casino, or on drugs? Would they or any of us throw a big welcome home party? The father that Jesus is describing seems like quite an outrageous character, one could even say a reckless one. What father would act like that? Was he lost too? Had he lost his mind?
That’s the question that the older son asked. Why? Why when his younger brother had spent all the money and disgraced the family was he treated like a celebrity? Why did the father greet him with open arms and celebrate when this young man was probably just going to do the same thing all over again if he had the chance? And what about the older son? He stayed at home, took care of the father and did everything right and he never received a party at all! This didn’t seem fair and the older brother was angry. Everything the father had was his and he could have had a party at any time if he only asked his father, but instead he let his anger seethe under the surface. Every day, year after year, he let it grow and grow. One could say that this son too was prodigal or extravagant in the amount of anger and resentment that he flung around. His younger brother had disgraced his father. Maybe he was angry that his brother was not there helping him and now his father welcomed him back with open arms! He was angry and jealous and hurt and wanted nothing to do with the father or the great celebration that was taking place for that prodigal, good for nothing son, that sinner! What kind of person “welcomes sinners and eats with them?”
That’s the same question the Pharisees and scribes were asking about Jesus. And that’s why Jesus told this parable, because he challenges us to look at people through new eyes – through God’s eyes. Because when we do that we, as St. Paul says in 2 Cor., “regard no one from a human point of view.” We see people differently when we see them as God sees them – like a father who welcomes his children home and is willing to forgive and be reconciled with them. This is what the story is all about. Perhaps a more fitting title would be the Prodigal Father because of how extravagant he was, and how extravagant God is. It is a story of how much God loves us and is waiting to forgive us with open arms. And being a disciple of Christ means that we are to do the same with each other. St. Paul tells us, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see everything has become new.” He tells us that “this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” What does Paul mean when he says we are to be in Christ? He means we are to be immersed in Christ. Our whole lives are to be centered in Christ. Everything we do, every decision we make, every conversation we have needs to begin in Christ. If we live this way, then life is different. We are then a new creation.
A new creation means that our old selves are gone. Our sins are forgiven and we can begin again. We can envision a new future because the Holy Spirit has awakened our holy imaginations. The Holy Spirit will open our eyes to see possibilities where they never existed before. When we have lost our way, the Spirit will guide us home in Christ. That’s what it means to be in Christ, in means to have our home in Christ. Our home, our joy, our peace is found in Christ.
Jesus who is the character of God in the flesh, like the Father, “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” We are all sinners. We are all the prodigal sons and daughters in that we have so often wasted the grace God has bestowed on us. We’ve all gone astray and found ourselves lost, but in Christ God welcomes us home. God is the father in this story who is prodigal or extravagant. God’s love for us is extravagant! God’s forgiveness is extravagant! God’s grace is extravagant! God stops at nothing – even coming down from the glories of heaven and dying on a cross – to bring us back home. In Christ we experience the love of God that is bigger and wider and deeper than anything we can comprehend. None of us deserve all the inheritance that God has for us, yet even when we are far off God comes to us, welcomes us, and lavishes upon us countless grace. What an outrageous thing to do, but what an outrageous, awesome, and prodigal God we have!
As we continue our Lenten journey – our journey to the cross and our journey to Christ – may the Holy Spirit lead us to find our way home. May the Holy Spirit help us to remove any places in our hearts that are filled with anger and resentment and guide us to make peace with one another and reconcile with each other as Christ commands us to do. May we forgive even ourselves, so that we are free to be all God created us to be. And may the Holy Spirit give us eyes to see others with the love of God so that we can be prodigal or extravagant with the love of God. In Christ we are a new creation. In Christ we have a true home and there’s no place like home. Amen.