Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
11 Jesus continued: ‘There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” So he divided his property between them.
13 ‘Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
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! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: 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.” 20 So he got up and went to his father.
‘But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms round him and kissed him.
21 ‘The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
22 ‘But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” So they began to celebrate.
25 ‘Meanwhile, the elder son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 “Your brother has come,” he replied, “and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.”
28 ‘The elder brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”
31 ‘“My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”’
It seems to me that we find in this masterful parable Jesus tells that there are two kinds of people.
There are people who think they know all there is to know, and people who just know they don’t.
There are people who believe they know all there is to know about Jesus and the church and faith and have it all squared away very nicely.
There are those who know they don’t know pretty much anything or anywhere near enough about Jesus and church and faith and know they are not even close to having it all nicely squared away in some little box called ‘religion’, or ‘church’, or ‘faith’.
There are people who believe they have things pretty under control and are living their life pretty much their own way.
There are those who know they don’t know a lot about a lot, and often struggle to live life knowing which way to go.
Which one would you say you seem to be more like at the moment?
As Jesus continues to travel on the road to the city with its inevitable cross, Luke tells us that both kinds of people are listening,
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering round to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.’
‘Tax collectors and sinners’: They are the people who know they don’t know and are treated as such by the others who think they do. In this parable they are about to find the best news they have ever heard.
‘Pharisees and teachers of the Scriptures’: These are the people who think they know it all and therefore have it all and should keep having it all from God, because they are so good and smart, don’t you know? They are about to be seriously challenged.
Jesus tells this famous parable to both groups of people and declares to them that BOTH ARE LOST to the Father’s love.
To the tax collectors and sinners this is not rocket science. They know! The other mob keep reminding them about this daily!
To the pharisees and teachers of God’s scriptures, this is deeply offensive and disturbing.
The first of the lost sons is the one we want to hear about. His story has been the subject of poems, paintings, songs and whole novels. His is the story of a person who blows up all his relationships, including his relationship with his own father and family to pursue self.
He is the self-discoverer type. He is searching for truth in all kinds of places, from pleasure to possessions to popularity. Eat, pray, love. Truth is within and in what I experience, and in what I think about what I experience – not in the Word of the Father and life in relationship to his Father, his family, or his church.
This rejection of who raised him and gave him life and love so far, starts off well. It feels like freedom. But eventually comes up completely empty. He blows up not just all his relationships, but his meaning, his purpose, his hope, not to mention maybe 2/3 of the family’s financial foundation! He puts his whole family and his future in serious doubt – and all for the self. Self-discovery turns out to be a self-made prison; and not just for him.
And then the other lost son. We seem to steer away from him. Maybe it is because we intuitively know that his story threatens us. We are longer-term church people. We do know the stories and the expectations, and the needs and have known for years.
Maybe we drop this older brother off the famous parable because we know that if we are going to be either of the brothers in Jesus little story, it would be this brother, and this brother does not come up well?
It is just easier for people like us who have been in the church for ages to fall for being like him! This is disturbing, so we just focus on the happier story of the younger son …
But the question is raised by Jesus. How can the long-serving and suffering and very good older brother be as lost as his wayward younger brother?
His lostness is clear in the way he relates to the Father …
“Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”
No respectful name, ‘Father’. No seeking of understanding or learning, just anger and self. “How dare you, Dad”. “You owe me, Dad!”. “Where is MY reward, Dad?!”. “Gimme, gimme, gimme MINE”….
This person is not seeking self-discovery. He is not seeking any discovery because he obviously thinks he has discovered all there is to know about Jesus, church, faith, life in God’s care….. He does not need to discover a thing! He has got it all together. But he is so angry – angry at what? Angry at his Father!
He has been working so hard at being very, very good for years and the reward of lasting acceptance and love is just not coming the way he wants it. He has it all worked out, but it is not working out. He has his plans in place, but the Father is disrupting that careful space by crazy underserved illogical unpredictable grace!
We don’t need more grace. We need more punishments! That younger boy should be made to pay. They all should. No one has been as good as me. How dare this straggler wear that family ring again after he blew most of our cash. How dare anyone take my place in my pew or committee or role – especially if they are not from the Barossa or have a German name or are from outside the family lines!!
This is where the parable jumps off the page and sinks into our souls via our ears. This parable is not about two fictional brothers who lived a long time ago, this word of Jesus is now about me now.
The question the Spirit calls for? Which lostness is mine today?
Am I lost in the self-orientated self-discovery of life and self on my terms at whatever cost to others?
Am I lost in the daily pursuit of blessing and life and love by endless being very, very good, as if the Father is keeping the score?
Whether I am lost as I blow up my relationships and pay little attention to God’s word and live it my way on my terms to try and find myself or make things happens for myself and those I love, or whether I am being a very morally upright and clean person doing all the things for others that I simply must, I am lost. That is what this parable says.
Why am I lost? Because I want what the Father can give me, but I don’t want him. I want the blessings and the pleasure and the help and the good fortune and prosperity and accolades from others and God, but I don’t want a living relationship with him that shapes my day today.
So, lost ones, now notice this Father again. He is not lost. He s coming out to you and finding you again….
At enormous cost to himself, in every way (financially, status in the community, respect of his friends, risk of further rejection from his children….), this Father goes out to meet BOTH lost sons.
This Father goes out to the self-discovery boy and reinstates him before the boy can get his bumbling words out about his grand plan for self-salvation.
The Father knows that this son’s attempts to pay him back for his wrong will never work, never be enough, never reach their end. Trying to pay God back will be slavery.
At great cost and in sheer grace, the Father simply reinstates his lost son. He is a son, not a slave.
Again, at great cost to himself, the Father goes out of the grand party he is throwing for the whole village in honour of his now found first son, to his angry other son still fuming about how all his hard work of earning the future blessing have come to nothing.
The Father goes out to invite the long-serving young man into the joy of the feast he is missing out on because of his insistence on relying on his own pride and strength to get good things in life.
Those telling words of grace come;
31 ‘“My son,” you are always with me, and everything I have is yours”.
And the ending? It is not there. Jesus leaves it hanging. We never know if the older son dropped his ego and his control and his hard work and moral cleanliness, got off that high horse and went with his Father into that family feast.
What will be the ending today for you?
Everything this Father has, including his own dearly loved son of perfect love and hope is yours today.
The Son is on the way to showing you he really is who he says he is for you – the best older brother anyone could ever have.
Jesus is the older brother to you that the older brother in the parable should have been for his sibling but wasn’t.
The older brother should have downed tools and went and searched out his troubled lost young sibling and brought him home, or at least made sure the boy had protection and food. That was his vocation as the oldest brother.
He failed but Jesus didn’t. Jesus has come to all the lost brothers and sisters – the self-discoverer wayward types and the morally upright religious types, and given up his beautiful life for all the ugliness and injustice we lost self-discoverers or religious sibling could ever produce.
How does the story end today for you, friend?
Are you shedding tears of joy because you know your lostness and you are so thankful for being found?
Are you a but grumpy because all your efforts to be so good don’t seem to mean what you thought they did or should?
Is there a moment here to put down all the requests and the wills and the work for God to simply let God be your Abba – your kind and loving Father who is showing you again that your indeed loved more than you currently know.
31 ‘“My son/My daughter,….you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 ….. we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
As are you, friend. As are you.