4 Lent

The Rev. Mary Grambsch

I gave you fair warning in last week’s sermon that more parables are coming your way!       Today’s parable is the longest in the Bible- and one of the most familiar.  The parable of the Prodigal Son, as it is known in the church, is a scripture passage that we have heard many, many times and sometimes we stop listening because we have heard it all before.

The parable of The Prodigal Son has puzzled and challenged the thoughts of countless scholars, writers, preachers and even artists.  The parable itself feels so straight forward to us – it doesn’t seem so complex.  The meaning of the parable seems to be clear on the face of it, we don’t have to dig too deep for what it means.

A superficial reading of the domestic scene describes the return to the family fold of a family member who had wandered away, and the conflicting feelings of the family when he returns; some family members feel joy and relief that he is back and safe, and others feel jealous and judgmental, feeling that the joyful welcome is unfair and unjust.

Seems clear doesn’t it.  But as you would expect, the real meaning of the parable is not so cut and dried, not as simple as it seemed.

This parable of The Prodigal Son stirs up feelings in us, just as it did for the crowd that heard it from Jesus.  Do you remember last week when I said that we tend to put ourselves into a role in the parable story?  So who do you identify with in this parable?

There is the Younger Son; showing a lack of respect for his father by demanding his half of the inheritance before the father has died.  He is saying to his father, “I wish you were dead so I could have your money.”  The Younger Son then abandons his responsibility to care for his father in his old age and wanders away to a foreign land.  Any one of these actions made this young man contemptible and inhuman to Jesus’ listeners.  I also believe it is a horrible, unthinkable way to treat ones father.

The Younger Son falls even further into disgrace; he lives in a foreign land, he wastes his money in rich living and prostitutes until it is gone and then hires himself to foreigners to tend pigs and even wants to eat the pig’s food.  For the Jews listening to Jesus tell this parable, this young man could sink no lower.  He is absolute scum.

Now, let’s look at the Father; he bears the disrespect of his son and gives him the inheritance he demands without a word.  He doesn’t throw his out of the house, but lets him go wherever he wants to go.  He worries, and prays, and mourns his lost boy.  Maybe he wonders if he did the right thing.  He probably looses sleep and seems preoccupied to the rest of the family. 

What about The Older Son; he is faithful to his father and hard-working.  He is probably a careful steward of his property.  He feels a duty and responsibility to his father and follows his father’s orders.  However, when his younger brother returns in absolute disgrace, he is angry and indignant that all should be forgotten and forgiven so completely.  It isn’t fair! It isn’t right!  Don’t actions have consequences?  Aren’t we responsible for our foolish actions?  Don’t we have to pay for those foolish actions?  Here is this man who threw away everything his father worked for, wasted money on high living and prostitutes, lived with foreigners and are with PIGS!  How can he come back to live with decent, hard working people?  It is too much to expect, and yet here is his father accepting him back and expecting everyone to be happy about his return. I understand completely the Older Son.

So who do you identify with in this parable?

The Father, who has endless love and patience and mercy with both his sons is meant to represent the nature of God, our heavenly father; always welcoming, always ready to forgive.  Letting us truly have free will, even when we use it to hurt him and ourselves.

The Older Son; the faithful, dutiful, envious and not very understanding or willing to forgive.  Jesus is intending the Pharisees and scribes to see themselves in the portrait of the Older Son.  The Jewish Authorities are so concerned with the sinners, prostitutes, sick people and tax collectors that have gathered around Jesus, the very people who are hearing and responding to the Good News of God’s mercy and forgiveness that Jesus brings them. The Pharisees can not see the lives that are being healed and changed for the better and the sins that have been washed away through God’s love. The father tells the Older Son, “I am always with you,” but that message is not received or remembered.

Who then is meant in the portrait of the Younger Son?  Hard as it is to hear – the Younger Son is us!  I think to myself, “I would never do horrible things to my father; I would never do the things the Younger Son did.”  But, in fact, we do. 

For example; God gave us this wonderful gift of creation, the beauty of the earth, sea and skies.  Are we always mindful and careful of this precious gift?  Do we use our resources rightly “in the service of others?”  Are we careful not to waste water?  Are we careful not to waste gasoline, to not buy more material things than we need, do we repair broken things instead of just replacing them – do we even think to try?  We waste and misuse and abuse the gifts God gives us as much as the Younger Son did.

We are indeed the sinners gathered around Jesus, but we live in hope.  The mercy and forgiveness of God is wide and endless.  God loves us and shows us mercy far beyond our deserving.  During this season of Lent we are reminded again and again of our lowly status before God; we have fallen short of God’s glory and are sinners before him.  We look though, with hopeful eyes, to God’s love and care for us.  We are God’s children, welcomed home again and again, just as the Younger Son was welcomed and forgiven. We can bring all our troubles and burdens to God for Jesus never says “no” to us.
Bring your burdens to God,
Bring your burdens to God,
Bring your burdens to God
For Jesus will never say no.