March 14, 2010 Lent 4
I’m going to “go out on a limb” a bit today — so I invite you to imagine with me that you and I are part of the crowd – part of that group of Pharisees and teachers of the law – around Jesus when He first told this parable. I’m going to speak as if I were one of the Pharisees talking to others in the group as we listen to Jesus and react to what He says.
Here we go —
Can you believe this fellow Jesus?
I mean – really – it is almost unbelievable what He is doing.
Don’t you think?
I am appalled at what Jesus is doing – and all the people He is allowing to follow Him.
Of course you are! We are the Pharisees and teachers of the law – the elite of Jewish society. We avoid people like tax collectors and sinners – the folks Jesus is welcoming.
Some of them are even proclaiming Him to be the Messiah.
When the Messiah comes, he certainly won’t associate with “them” – but he will be one of “us”.
Don’t you think?
I have been watching and taking notes about this Jesus for some time now – and can not believe what He is doing!
He even enters the houses of tax collectors and sinners.
Look – He’s going into one of their houses now to eat with them.
Imagine – eating with tax collectors – men who have betrayed our country and work for the Romans – collecting their taxes and making a fortune off of the misfortune of their own people – our own people!
These folks need to be string up by their toes – or at least avoided and not associated with.
And sinners – not just ordinary people who sin a little – but those whose sins are so heinous that most of them have been expelled from the Synagogue.
You know – this Jesus must be a sinner also.
Why else would he associate with the likes of these?
“Birds of a feather flock together”
That’s what I’ve always heard.
Don’t you agree?
Well – we must have been talking too loudly – because Jesus must have overheard us.
Now – as He is about to enter the sinner’s house to eat with these worthless people – He turns and tells us a story.
It’s a strange story at that.
It seems that there was this father who had two sons – and the younger son asks his father for his part of the inheritance.
Can you imagine the audacity of a younger son to ask for his inheritance in such a manner? It’s almost as if he wished his father were dead so he could take his money and blow it all! But his father complies with the request – and gives his son his portion of the inheritance.
I almost said “I told you so” when Jesus continues his story. The son takes his money and blows everything on riotous living – and – can you believe it – riotous living with Gentiles! What a disgrace! Living and partying with Gentiles! And to top it all off, he does not come home to apologize when the money is all gone. Instead he goes to work for one of the Gentiles who puts him to work feeding his pigs.
The Gentile must have laughed when he saw the Hebrew boy out feeding his pigs.
Can you believe it?
A Hebrew lad – poor from squandering away his inheritance – feeding the pigs of a Gentile.
He has certainly “hit rock bottom” – don’t you think?
Well, it’s only then that he comes to his senses. He decides to go home – and at least beg his father to hire him to work for him. He knows that he does not deserve to be treated like a son any more – but maybe his father will hire him to work on the farm.
It will serve him right – don’t you think?
If a son of mine behaves in such a way I punish him – don’t you?
But this boy’s father really humiliates himself.
He is so happy to see his son that he rushes out to meet him – and doesn’t even let him apologize. Instead, he sends for a robe – a ring – shoes – and a fatted calf to kill so they can have a party.
Is this any way to treat a son who has taken your money and squandered it with Gentiles?
Not in my opinion!
How about yours?
Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that I’m unforgiving. I would take my son back – but I would set some conditions on his return. I might let him return – but I would punish him – not throw a party! I would let him come home to “sackcloth and ashes” so to speak – not a ring, robe, and shoes! I would let him come home to kneeling and penitence – not dancing and feasting!
I mean – am I wrong?
Don’t you agree?
I mean – the actions of the father make little sense to me.
Do they to you?
Well, finally somebody appears in this story Jesus is telling that thinks the same way I do. Finally someone reacts in the same way I would.
The older brother comes home from a long day at work in the fields and hears the party going on. When he discovers that his younger brother has returned home and his father is throwing a big party for him he is furious! The father comes out and begs him to join the celebration – but he refuses. He refuses to associate with his younger brother who is such a sinner – who has done so many sinful things – who has associated with Gentiles! Even if he is his brother – he is a sinner! He refuses to share his father’s joy – and be reconciled to his father and brother.
I can understand his point!
He’s right – isn’t he?
But – I wonder.
I wonder if the older brother ever goes into the feast.
Maybe – just maybe – the father is right.
Maybe he should celebrate his younger brother’s return – regardless of what his younger brother has been up to. Maybe he shouldn’t worry about the past – but only forgive and be reconciled.
Well, Jesus never finished the story.
He turns and walks in the house to eat with the tax collectors and sinners.
He never tells us if the older brother ever joined the party – and celebrated his brothers’ return.
But – I wonder.
What would I have done?
Would I have joined the party?
What about you?
What would you have done?
Well – what are you and I doing now?
We’re acting more like the older brother – and murmuring – while Jesus is celebrating with the tax collectors and sinners who have come to Him.
Indeed – what would I have done had I been the older brother?
What would you have done?
I pray that this imaginative interpretation of how the Pharisees and teachers of the law who originally heard Jesus’ story might have reacted to it has helped you re-connect with the important principle that Jesus was trying to teach here.
God has reconciles us to Himself through Christ – and calls us to be reconciled to others.
In other words, God forgives us through what Christ has done for us – and calls us forgive others.
I believe this parable is about how God forgives us when we come to Him – and calls us to forgive others.
No – Jesus does not finish the story – He does not end the story – but He invites us to put our own ending to it.
He invites us to ask ourselves –
What would we have done if we had been the older brother?
How would we have reacted to this story if we had been one of the original Pharisees and teachers of the law listening to Jesus?
In our Epistle passage for today Paul writes that we can be reconciled to God – that we can come to God through Christ and be forgiven of our sins. Christ has made it possible for us to be forgiven of all our sins and live in loving and forgiving relationships with God and others.
Through Christ, God offers us love and forgiveness.
Through Christ, God offers us the ability to love and forgive others.
This is the point of Jesus’ parable –
Let God forgive you – and share the forgiveness God gives you with others.
So – we have a question to consider.
Can we be reconciled to God and others – and enter into a relationship with God where He forgives us – and where we share the forgiveness He gives to us with others?
Can we enter into a relationship with God and others – even those we are quick to condemn?
Friends – Lent is a time for reflecting on God’s love for us and how we share God’s love for us with others. God’s love is so great that God expressed it through the arms of Christ upon the cross. God’s love is a love that includes all who come to Him – sinners and tax collectors – prodigals – and yes – if they will let it – Pharisees and older brothers – and even you and me.
Indeed – if we let ourselves be a part of God’s loving and forgiving plan and come to God for forgiveness – God’s love can touch even you and me – and lead us into new ways to live in love with God and with all people.
As Paul writes –
Be reconciled to God.