READING: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
So what do you feel when you hear this story? Who do you relate to? Which character? I was thinking – I’m a man who has two sons. Hmm.
Take a moment to become one of the characters. What you would say if you were them? How would you tell the story from their point of view?
So what did you think?
The father – many could relate to him. How challenging parenting is and how different our children turn out to be.
The younger son – I guess many could relate to him too. We have many in our churches who have come home to the Father (God) – some after years of being away. Many who wasted their resources and opportunities. Remember that the word “prodigal” which we use to describe this parable means one who wastes and squandours their wealth and resources!
The older brother – there are plenty older brothers who can easily be resentful.
And there are other points of view in the story – think of the mother (perhaps saying to her husband: “I told you it wasn’t a good idea!”).
Or the servants in the household wondering how this could be.
Think of the neighbours – the local rabbi if there was one – family friends and of course the lawyers of the day who were guardians of the way estates were handled and retirement planned!
MY REACTION TODAY
As a father – I understand completely. As a counsellor and as a pastor – I see so many fascinating dynamics in families. There are so many interesting possibilities. This story resonates with many of our experiences does it not?
There are two issues I want to consider however – to stretch your thinking:
I would suggest that the younger brother didn’t repent when he was in the pig pen. Yes he was in a serious mess. People sometimes say that he did repent – but I think it’s more basic than that. Listen again:
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!
They all come home when they’re hungry. I’m speaking of children of all ages.
And as an aside people come to church for all kinds of reasons too – they walk in here and discover while looking for a meal – a practical solution – support in their new language – songs for their children to learn at mainly music – skills for their boys to develop at ICONZ – while looking for these things they find the extravagant grace and love of God!
And by the way that begins in us – our being extravagantly gracious and generous!
This prodigal was driven by a famine! By circumstances! By his stomach! And he had some bridges to mend! The road to repentance begins here – but its not the whole explanation for what was happening.
What follows is a rehearsed speech – kids do this all the time – when they’ve crashed the car or messed up in some way. Here’s verse 18 again:
I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: And then there’s the speech. He would have had lots of time to practice it on the road: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’
Yes the speech includes “I have sinned against heaven and against you”. So people do argue that he repented. And following what I said last week – there is a change of direction and a change in mind here!
In the context of the other parables – remember the lost sheep and the lost coin before this parable in Luke 15? The shepherd found the lost sheep. Someone has noted that the lost sheep did not repent either!
In Romans 5:8 Paul reminds us: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
And God – way back in Genesis – went LOOKING for Adam who had become the first prodigal!
Luther said that repentance follows forgiveness. In fact the first of his 95 theses that he nailed to the wall so to speak and got the Reformation going reads like this:
When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
The story of the prodigal son is a story if anything about forgiveness.
I mean the father didn’t even let the younger son finish his speech. And he didn’t do what dad’s do today: bread and water and to your bedroom! We’ll talk about this tomorrow!
He threw an amazing party! They celebrated with the very best! That’s an act of forgiveness. Welcoming him home is an act of forgiveness.
When you realise how generous God is, you repent! When you understand grace and the power of His love – you repent. The woman Jesus stopped from being stoned in John 8:11 would have repented when Jesus said – neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.
Christians who have walked the path a long time are more aware of their sins further down the track. And they repent. Pascal wrote this on the subject: “God is none other than the Saviour of our wretchedness. So we can only know God well by knowing our iniquities… Those who have known God without knowing their wretchedness have not glorified him, but have glorified themselves.” Blaise Pascal
And the fruit of repentance – the evidence of that repentance – for the prodigal son – would have been seen in the sequel or next story– “The kindness of the prodigal son to his grumpy bitter brother” and then perhaps in the next movie or newspaper article: “prodigal son puts in amazing hours on dad’s farm” followed by ” Prodigal’s lamb production puts large pig farm out of business”.
Forgiveness and grace – unmerited favour shown in love and kindness – lead us to full repentance as we realise how unworthy we are and that comes from the celebration of our return to God as well! Remember that in the previous parable where the shepherd find the lost sheep and brings them back, Jesus has this to say: I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.(Luke 15:7)
2. The other voice in the story.
There is another voice in the story. A second silent narrator if you like – perhaps outside of the story but commenting anyway.
It’s the voice of the accountant/retirement advisor.
It’s the voice of the one who looks at the Father’s high risk behaviour – foolishness – in giving the brother his inheritance in the face of the insult that he presents in the original request. After all, to ask for you money from dad before he dies is as good as saying he is dead. The dad takes the insult on the chin. And he gives the wealth away to his son who ends up squandering it – wasting it – spending it.
How similar that is to the very first story in the Bible that involves two brothers – yes the story of the parents of Cain and Abel. God in His grace gives their parents the right to name the animals and the responsibility to rule and care for the world on His behalf. They too are prodigal – wasting opportunity and resources as they turn to their own devices!
The voice of the account-cum- retirement advisor screams out – I told you so! You should not have done that! It was a bad idea.
But this Father is not into keeping up with the social standards of the day. His love is too extravagant.
He’s the dad that runs down the road! Bad bad bad! No self respecting dad would have done that in those days!
He’s the dad that kills the fatted calf! There’s no discussion about how the prodigal was to pay anything back. No restorative justice here.
One commentator, David Lose writes: Jesus paints a picture of this world in his story of a foolish son and even more foolish father. It is a world of unmerited grace. Counters won’t understand. Pulled down by the weight of their own claims, they can only sputter, “All these years….” “You never….” “This son of yours…”.
Yes the older brother is the spokesperson for the ones who want it to balance on paper – who want it to be fair.
David Lose also writes about this “other country” that the story describes like this: What I’m thinking of really is another country, another land, one that feels, smells, even tastes different. You know right when you’ve stumbled into it, even if you didn’t notice the boundary lines.
What makes this country different is that nobody counts things here. Do you know what I mean? No tracking billable hours, no counting the days until school lets out, no ringing up debits on the balance sheet, no cries from the backseat of “are we there yet?”
Best yet, no counting old grievances and grudges, no dredging up past wrongs or unsettled scores. For some reason, people in this country have lost track of all that; in fact, they can’t remember why you’d keep count in the first place.
This is the Kingdom of God! The country of God, if you like.
This is Grace land – literally.
This is our place – God took a risk with the human race by putting us in charge here. And we too waste and squander. And he celebrates when we come home too!
So we too can fill in the blanks when we come back to our heavenly father: you can write your name in the spaces below:
______ was dead and is alive again; _______ was lost and is found.
It’s never too late! He too waits for us to come home!
Amen! May it be so for you today.