FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT (31 March 2019)
Isaiah 12:1–6 | 2 Corinthians 5:16–21 | Luke 15:1–3, 11–32
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.’
3 Then Jesus told them this parable:
The parable of the lost son
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.”’
Christ Has been made the Prodigal Son for us to be Reconciled to the Father
Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…
In chapter 15 of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells three famous parables. First, the parable of the Lost Sheep, second; the parable of the Lost Coin, thirdly and lastly, he tells of the parable of the prodigal son.
Many scholars and theologians don’t particularly like this title for it is not primarily about the younger son who takes his inheritance early and squanders it. But rather it is generous loving and waiting father who welcomes him back with open arms.
Let us pray…
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our be acceptable and pleasing to you O Lord, Amen.
When we look at the Gospels and we read and hear our Lord Jesus speak, it always important to ask a few basic questions… where is He speaking and to whom. Sometimes the former is important due to what He is saying might be better understood by the surrounding geography. But the latter is always important. To whom Jesus is speaking helps understand why He said what He did in the first place. And do we have in our case today…
15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable…
So who is this parable directed at? The Pharisees and scribes. Why? to help them understand why He welcomes sinners and eats with them and also to help them see their flawed attitudes in all this.
The scriptures are filled with conflicts between people and one of the more common ones is not to dissimilar to our common conflicts and what are they, sibling disputes and rivalry.
This is your common “that’s not fair” dispute between children and this matures as we get older but the same attitude of inequality continues to pop it’s head up in different ways.
What Jesus was trying to convey to the Pharisees and scribes was really just one primary point, the generous heart of God. Although this truth had ramifications for both brothers, it is the God’s unmerited, unimaginable and illogical generosity that Jesus wants them to hear.
The ramifications of it for the younger son were that it was a place back home in his father’s house after self-inflicted estrangement from it.
The ramifications it had for the older son were revealed in his inability to understand his father and his love, even though he had been there with him and obedient to him.
I wonder you’ve ever been to a foreign land, either voluntary or involuntary. Picture if you can, a place where you’ve been that is foreign, feels foreign or perhaps just made you feel uncomfortable being there. I know hospitals are a place where people typically don’t like being in and are often looking to get out of ASAP to return home to the comfort of their own bed, own clothes and own surroundings.
Now the place that this younger son went to was the extreme. The place where he had lived a life that was worse than his father’s servants. Had a diet that was also nowhere near as nutritious as they had either. In fact he didn’t get to eat what the pigs did when he tried.
We often applaud the repentant heart this prodigal son had when he returns, but let’s think of what it actually was that sparked this reminder to go home – Hunger. Perhaps it was hunger that turned into a contrite heart but hunger nevertheless. It is Interesting that he did not think of the sin he was committing before he got hungry. The selfishness this reveals in the heart of the younger son is devastating. And I don’t think the rest of us are much better by the way.
In fact, we were so badly rotting with the pigs, hungry, depraved and self-centered, that our Father sent Christ to come and get us. We were, and are, trapped in a foreign land, full of sin that stinks of dirty animal pens and that is where we would be if Christ didn’t come get us.
It is actually Christ who has made us worthy to be loved, embraced and kissed. Christ did not only come and get us and lift us out of the dirt and rottenness of sinful rebellion … He actually became sin. Our Father made “Him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). This is what our epistle reading highlights for us, for this very reason.
He/we must remember that we are only in this house for Christ’s sake, that we were the younger brother and still are at times. How would we want the Lord to treat us if and when we fall into temptation.
The Lord will bring justice and reward to everyone, but let him do that. Do not be the dictator of how and to whom the Lord should or shouldn’t show mercy. Let us be at one with the Father’s will, heart and intent for sinners.
We are therefore called to rejoice with heaven when a sinner comes home. In fact, since we are in the Father’s house let us prepare our hearts, our homes and our churches for a place for lost sinners. As we partake in the Father’s mission, and are not hostile toward it, let us never grow out the truth and reality that we are in this house by grace. We all deserve to be still in a foreign land and would be if it weren’t for Christ.
Younger sons and daughters… come home.
For those of us here who are yearning for a return to church and Christian community of our children, grandchildren… align yourself with the Father’s heart today and wait with Him.
Elder sons and daughters… rejoice with the Father when sinners in our family or friendship circles repent. I know myself how tempting it is to say “I told you so” or something to that effect. For many years growing up, when I first came to faith, my mum was one of a group in my family who would want nothing to do with the faith and still doesn’t… When she calls to ask about God or the Scriptures, the temptation of course is to be cheeky or aggressive, “I thought God didn’t exist mum?”.
You see, our heavenly Father is nothing like this… he makes Himself vulnerable and runs out to greet the son with no questions asked.
This is the difference between us and God that this parable highlights.
When we are tempted to be the elder brother in situations and judge the younger brother, sister, family member or friend remember this…
Our Lord Jesus became the Prodigal Son for you too… The ‘prodigal son’ was off feeding pigs, Jesus was born in the place they eat from…
He went to a foreign land, didn’t squander His Father’s inheritance personally but was treated as if He did… to the point that He felt abandoned by His Father, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me”.
This is what our Creed is speaking of when it says “he descended into hell”. To be in hell is to be separated from the Father. This is why we are to call on our Lord when we feel like we’re living in hell and struggling with life… because He stepped into it Himself.
He did this so that He could take us from this foreign land, from Satan’s grip, and bring us back home. This is how the lost become found, the dead made alive… This is how God the Father sees us while we were “still a long way off,” He saw us and “felt compassion”… only through Christ. In this return He sees Christ and His righteousness, and so runs to us. This is a belonging and affirmation that only Christ has the right to. But through His incarnation, life, death and resurrection… He has incorporated us into this house filled with celebration by God’s servants and all the company of Heaven. He has taken sinful and rebellious humanity on as His own and brought us back as forgiven sons and daughters. And it is only by Christ are we able to return home to the Father’s house.
May you always keep this at the center of your heart and mind so that you may continue to know what it means to be a child in the household of the Heavenly Father, trusting and learning from Him, mimicking Him in His love and generosity to his fellow children… this is part of what the Lord Jesus is getting at when He says “love another, as I have loved you”…
And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus, the One who was made the prodigal for you. Amen.