Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3,11b-32
Everyone knows the name of today’s parable, which is…
The Prodigal Son. This is a story in need of a new name. The Prodigal Son implies that the most important character in the story is the youngest son. But this story is not about the youngest son. It’s not about the oldest son, either. It’s about the unconditional love of the father.
This story should sound familiar because it involves family. Take the parents, for example. What parent with more than one child at home doesn’t struggle with favoritism? What parents don’t have favorites? I was the oldest of three children in our family & my parents loved us all. However, my younger brother & sister sometimes accused me of being the favorite. And they may have been right. I was a pretty easy kid. Parents like that!
Even if they really do believe that they love each child equally, the reality is that it’s almost impossible for parents to consistently ensure that all the children always feel that they are always loved the same as the others & treated equally. Certainly, in the story Jesus tells, not everyone feels that they are loved & treated equally.
As always, Jesus tells stories that invite us in. He wants us to find ourselves in the story. It’s not complicated. In today’s story there are only three characters & one of those is off limits so we really only have two choices.
First, there’s the older son. The older son, according to law & tradition, was the person who would inherit the greatest wealth & power. The older son is the one who has faithfully served & believes that he’s entitled to certain things. As the story unfolds, we are asked to consider how we might feel entitled to certain things.
I remember when I was a kid I wanted a go-cart. I wanted to be able to drive around in my own kid-size vehicle. But my parents didn’t give it to me. Later, I wanted a model rocket—one of those that you put together & launch high into the air. Didn’t get that, either. As I got older I wanted a mini-bike. Too expensive; my parents wouldn’t get that for me, either. And, being a “good son,” I didn’t put up much of a fuss.
Years later, my younger brother wanted the same things. And he got everything: a go-cart, rockets, & a mini-bike. Now, does that seem fair? I was here first. I’m the oldest. I was a well-behaved kid!
That may not be your story but maybe you know what it’s like to feel entitled to certain things. You may feel entitled to power, or privilege, or possessions, or prestige. You’ve earned it. You’ve made sacrifices. You’ve paid your dues.
Then there’s the younger son. He also feels entitled, but in a different way. Not because he’s followed the rules & paid his dues. He’s his own boss. In the story he seems like a selfish rogue. He makes up the rules according to what suits him. He’s not accountable to anyone. He’s the sort of person who might say, “It’s a free country; I’ll do what I please.”
There is a third son who doesn’t appear in the story. He’s the one telling story. The third son’s name is Jesus. He never had a sense of entitlement, not even to his own life. He is the one who perfectly reflected the spirit of the Father.
The father in the story practiced unconditional love, unconditional acceptance of all his children. He has set aside any sense of entitlement. He doesn’t claim to deserve honor or respect or privilege. He doesn’t claim to deserve anything. He doesn’t wallow in anger, or resentment, or hurt, or sorrow. His focus is totally & completely on the other. His whole being is consumed by love.
The Prodigal Son is not a good name for this story. A better name for the story might be The Amazing, Astonishing, Incredible, Awesome, Unbelievable, Spectacular, Marvelous, Wonderful, Startling, Mind-boggling, Love of the Father.
We can never be the father in this story; but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from Jesus, the third son. In response to this awesome, unbelievable, amazing love we have two choices: resentment or celebration.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
When we begin to see the world not with human eyes but the eyes of the father our way of thinking begins to be transformed. Our world-view changes. We become, as Paul says, a new creation.
The best indication of the choice we make: a party! Those who choose to embrace the father’s love for themselves & all people will want to join the father’s celebration. Their response will be joy.
The spirit of the two sons is a spirit of entitlement. The spirit of the third Son is a spirit of gratitude. So each day we awake & through the course of the day we choose a spirit of entitlement or a spirit of gratitude.
The tone we set for the week begins here, at worship. Each Sunday we gather to hear the word of the father. Sometimes it sounds harsh.
Sometimes it sounds joyful. But however we experience it, the word of God always arises out of unconditional love for us & for all people.
Each Sunday we gather at the table for a meal that is called Eucharist, which means, Thanksgiving. On our way to the Table we pass by the font, which contains the waters of baptism, a sign of the Father’s unconditional love.
From there we are sent into the world, remembering who we are, & whose we are, until the following week, when we remember all over again.
It’s still the season of Lent but even now, we get hints of Easter. The father’s word to each of us this morning is, Come to the table. Join the celebration!