On Tuesday, I shared these words with the Study Group, “I think most of you know that I ran away from home when I was 14.” From their shocked faces, I realized I hadn’t told them! And for the rest of you who are as shocked as they were, I’ll give you a minute or two to refocus. 😉
Despite the fact that I must have preached on this text at least 6 times over the course of my ministry, I had never asked my siblings about how my leaving had affected them. I had some idea of how it affected my parents, but I didn’t stop to think of others for whom my leaving also affected. And while I was welcomed home at a later date, this reflection isn’t about me. It’s primarily about the nature of God.
This story that you are about to hear, is one of the most well known of Jesus’ parables. As you listen to the story, don’t forget that this is a story that Jesus told, not a historical event. But as we all know, stories have the power to unearth a deep truth. Just because the parable doesn’t relay a specific incident, doesn’t mean that this story isn’t played out countless times. Jesus uses imagery that would be familiar to his listeners.
First some historical context: In the early days of Israel, the laws governing family estates from generation to generation were very important and stemmed from the Law of Moses. These laws were to keep the lands from leaving the family heritages. It is very obvious the young son had no respect for the laws or his father. For a son, who was not the first born, to request his inheritance is very disturbing and selfish. The son, according to the people Jesus was speaking to, basically was saying “Dad, you are in the way of my future plans. It would be better if you were dead” (MacArthur). Any son that demanded what the young son did would be disowned by his father, and the son would be slapped across the face, in public, by his father. The public act would shame the son who had shown the disrespect. Given the culture of Israel, this was the lowest a son could go, and Jesus made sure to portray the worst shame in this parable.
I share that historical context to give you some idea of how shocking this story would be to the people who had gathered to hear Jesus speak. And despite the fact that it was shared more than 2000 year ago, this is a story that still takes place today. As you listen to it, I wonder where you would locate yourself in the story? Are you the younger son? The older son? The father? Are you the mother? The mother that is never mentioned? Are you one of the servants? Are you someone else who happens to be there?
Let’s listen, as the story unfolds in Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32:
15:1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.
15:2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
15:3 So he told them this parable: 15:11b “There was a man who had two sons.
15:12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them.
15:13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.
15:14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.
15:15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs.
15:16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.
15:17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 15:18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 15:19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”‘
15:20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.
15:21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
15:22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe–the best one–and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 15:23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 15:24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
15:25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.
15:26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.
15:27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’
15:28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.
15:29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.
15:30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’
15:31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.
15:32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'”
Celebrate and rejoice.
Dead and alive.
Lost and been found.
What is this story about?
How have you experienced forgiveness, welcome and grace? The traditional image of God as father, a stern and judging presence is turned upside down. This father runs to meet his son, his son who in the eyes of all of societal norms of the day was a disgrace. The father is as careless of his spending of his love as the son was in spending the money! All the son had to do was to turn back home and his father welcomed him with open arms.
That is the realm of God.
We all know that there are many homes that this wouldn’t take place. We have all been the older brother, who is basically saying, “It’s not fair!” We have all been the younger brother, who gets away with stuff that you never did! But have we all been the father? The one who simply opens his arms, who publicly embraces his disrespectful son?
We ALL fall short of the welcome that God has for us. Because we are human and not God! But this story isn’t about us… it’s about God. We may run away as far and as fast as we can from God. We may do things that hurt others in our quest for gratification. We may hurt ourselves through the choices we make.
But when want to go back home… when we want to participate in the realm of God here on earth… when we want to live our lives in wholesome community with others, the road is short. All it takes is turning around, turning towards God, and God is there to welcome us with open arms and a celebration, where our past is no longer important.
The power and the promise of this story is that we don’t have to be locked into ways of being that are harmful!
The power and the promise of this story is that we can be reconciled!
The power and the promise of this story is that wherever we locate ourselves in the story, God is there too!
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity!
I wanted to play this Safe Home by Terry Kelly, but technology failed me today.
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
March 31, 2019 – ECM
© Catherine MacDonald 2019