The parable of the Prodigal Son reminds us that the Kingdom of God does not need our opinion on how things should be done according to what we determine is right and what is wrong.
March 27, 2022
“Lengthening the Light For Real Change”
Arise and Shine
Luke 15: 1-3; 11b-32
Pastor Heather McColl
Luke 15: 1-3; 11b-32
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: 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.’”
Arise and Shine Luke 15:1-3;11b-32
This parable really needs no explanation Although every time we read it, every time we share it, we do exactly that. We try to explain our discomfort with it. We try to reason its peculiarities away. We say “Well, this is a good teaching for us to know because the youngest son was repentant and came home.” But was he really? All we know really is that he ran out of money, that he “came to his senses” and decided to return home. We are not told he changed his behavior. We are not told that he truly really reconciled with his father at all. Or what about the older brother? As people of faith, we try to pretty up the ending, thinking the older brother will also come to his senses, that he will go into the party and join into the celebration as well. But really all we know is that the invitation was extended. We don’t really know if the older brother accepted it or not.
Every time we read, we share, we engage this parable of the Prodigal Son, we try to make it into something it is not. We try to make it fit into something we understand, into something that makes sense, into something that goes by our rules and regulations.
We want…no we need this parable to form to our logic. We need this parable to fit our limited understanding of the Kingdom of God. Because if it doesn’t…that means everything we use to keep others out no longer matters. That means we are not in control. That means….here’s the kicker: we are in the place of God in determining who is worthy and who is not.
The bottom line is that this parable is all about grace. This parable reminds us that the Kingdom of God does not ask our permission in determining who is in and who is out. This parable reminds us that the Kingdom of God does not need our opinion on how things should be done according to what we determine is right and what is wrong. This parable reminds us that the Kingdom of God extends the invitation to one and all and doesn’t care if we like it or not. Bottom line is that this parable is about God’s grace…something which offends us, something which saves us. This parable is about God’s grace, something which annoys us, and something which renews us every single time..
I shared earlier this week that like many of you, I have a love/hate relationship with this parable. I love it because of the over the top, joyous reaction the father shares after seeing his son return. I also hate this parable because it acts like a mirror, reflecting back to me all the times when I shared a less than gracious welcome to others. I love this text because many times throughout my life, I have been able to relate to the younger son, thinking I could do things on my own only to discover that was not the case. It was and continues to be a humbling and life renewing experience to know that in those moments when I have messed up, when I was wrong, although those moments come far and few between, it was and continues to be a humbling and life renewing experience to know that when I mess up, there is always, always, always someone to welcome me home, always someone to celebrate my return, always someone to wrap arms of grace and love around me. There is always someone reminding me who I am and whose I am.
I think it only far to also share that I hate this text because many times, more often than I would like to admit, I have related to the older brother. I have withheld joy. I have withheld grace. I have passed judgment. I have shared my opinion as though it were fact. Too many times I have been able to relate to the older brother, standing outside the party, with my arms crossed, condemning all, while ignoring the imperfections in myself which I can so clearly see in others.
This love/hate reaction is probably the same reaction the people had the first time Jesus shared this parable. I can almost imagine Jesus standing there with his disciples, with the religious leaders, with people who are curious about this Kingdom of God Jesus was teaching about to the sinners and the tax collectors. I can almost imagine Jesus telling them this parable and they say…But what about…what about those sinners as they cast the side eye to one gathered in their midst. To which Jesus replies…Grace. But what about those tax collectors as they curl their lips in disgust because it offends them just to say that word. And Jesus simply shrugs his shoulders and says “Grace.” Then someone else in the crowd says yeah but what about my neighbor who clearly doesn’t understand there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things, my way being the right way? Jesus again responds… Grace. Then another person in the crowd says…Yeah, but what about that single mother with two children. She decided to have those children. I shouldn’t be required to help. To which Jesus responds, “Grace.” Then someone else says but what about those people who make less than a living wage? I pulled myself up with my bootstraps. Why can’t they do the same thing? To which Jesus responds… Grace. Then someone else says but what about all those people, you know that illegal immigrant, those people who come and take our jobs. To which Jesus responds….Grace.
Then someone else says, yeah but what about…but Jesus interrupts them. And says…Let me stop you right there. We could do this all day. And the answer is never going to change. No matter who, no matter what the situation, no matter if that person looks, acts, thinks differently from you…The answer has been, is now and will always be Grace.
Because as someone way more intelligent than me said, “Belief in a violent and retributive God who punishes imperfect people is reflected in imperfect people who punish with violent retribution. But belief in a forgiving and merciful God who loves imperfect people is reflected in imperfect people who love with forgiving mercy.”
Because the answer will always be grace. May it be so…
See also: Theology Tuesday for Sunday, March 27, 2022 – Arise and Shine Luke 15:1-3;11b-32.