Luke 15: 11-32
The Monday evening book group has been reading Anne Lamott’s book, ‘Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace’. She makes a brief analogy to the prodigal son when she introduces her essay, ‘Brotherman’. After giving a vivid description about their despondent childhood, and John, the oldest and the ‘star’ of the family who moved three hours away, you can see that for many years she harbored resentment towards him. She and her other brother Stevo took care of their parents as they were dying. She and Stevo were the ones to never have left the area. She and Stevo were always around to clean up the messes of her family’s life, not John.
But she writes this about his return after many years, “John found refuge among the people he had hurt and neglected. I still had some little grudgelets and feared he would leave us again, but the three of us were slowly growing up. That, grace, and exhaustion with myself allowed me to forgive. I did not want to keep score anymore.” [i]
It’s not hard to figure out that John was analogous to the younger brother who went off to seek his fortune in today’s parable of the prodigal son and Anne and Stevo identified with the older brother who stayed back at the ranch.
We continue the sermon series the ‘The Genius or Way of Jesus’ reflecting upon the character of Jesus and the ways it shows us a deeper and fuller life. Jesus as encourager, balancer of power, resister of violence. Last week Beth showed us the part of Jesus’ character as seer of soul. This week Jesus shows us that God is ever present in our lives, no matter how we choose to live or to act.
The Prodigal Son
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.’”
This is an extremely complicated parable. So much of it rings true about human nature. Greed. Loss. Loneliness. Hunger. Realization. Jealousy. Anger. It’s all there, the worst of human nature; neither one of the sons will win the humanitarian award for outstanding behavior.
Yet we are also privy to see, and understand if we can, the best of divine nature. Love. Acceptance. Generosity. Mercy. Forgiveness. Grace.
Jesus tells this story. A man had two sons. The younger son wanted, and was given his share of his inheritance. At that time the older son too was given his portion of the inheritance but we don’t hear much about that. Being the “respectable” son he probably socked it away somewhere to increase in value. Maybe an early Palestine venture capital fund or something like that, who knows?
The younger son, the party animal, left home to seek his fortune, or rather engaged in ‘riotous living’ as the King James Version of the Bible puts it. Now his father was a rich man, which meant that the son was the recipient of a good hunk of change. However, as people who engage in riotous living do, he goes through it all pretty quickly. Wine, women and song perhaps and then, the famine hit. Does that sound familiar? It reminds me of the extravagance of the 80’s and 90’s that was suddenly quashed by the recession of 2007. Or the stock market’s correction this week. The party’s over….for a while.
The son had nothing. Not a morsel of food or dignity at that point. He hired himself out, a good Jewish boy, to work with the pigs. TREF! So NOT kosher! He was at his lowest even though he was instrumental in getting himself there. But then the Bible says, ‘he came to himself’ (v. 17) rather, he figured it out, he got it, the light-bulb went on, he had an a-ha moment. He did some introspective work, some soul searching on his situation and his heart. He thinks, “I’ll go back to my father.” He rehearsed what he was going to say and then went home.
While he was still in the distance, his father sees him. Runs to him. Greets him. Kisses him. Accepts him. And makes a big party for him. For what was lost, now was found. He that left, returned. Let’s face it, we’ve all been that younger son.
But that’s only part of the story. The oldest son was jealous and angry when he heard the music and laughter. And, why shouldn’t he be? After all he was the son who stayed at home, who invested wisely, who was at his father’s side. It’s only natural to get your nose out of joint and hold ‘some little grudgelets’ much like Anne Lamott and her brother Stevo in ‘Small Victories’. Let’s face it again, we’ve all been that older son too. Human nature at it’s worst.
But rather than focus on the actions of the sons, or our actions for that matter, let us focus on the extravagant and compassionate love that the father offers. I believe that’s what Jesus would like us to focus on as well; the extravagant and compassionate outpouring of love from God and seeing the sacred that is presented to us in all of our life situations.
Both of the sons are broken. And yet God met them where they were, warts and all and in their brokenness. Being broken is not such a good thing, it doesn’t feel like a good place to be in but I do believe that there is value that can be gained in that brokenness because that is where God chooses to meet us head on, and takes care of us giving us what we need to survive.
Stuff happens in life to all of us, but what sets us apart as Christ followers is that we know that God is with us and for us. That is something you can always count on. The sacred, divine and holy wiggles into those places with you all you need do is know and recognize that’ healing can begin.
There is a wideness in God’s mercy as the hymn proclaims. There is a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea. God’s mercy and love is incomprehensible, it knows no limits or boundaries or colors of skin. God’s ability to receive and forgive is beyond what we can even imagine. Thank goodness and thank God for that.
God extends mercy and grace to each and every one of us even if we’ve squandered away our inheritance, even if we’ve left home in search for something better - even if we have been faithful servants of the word. In our brokenness we find wholeness.
The reassuring message for today is that God loves!