“A Prodigal Son, a Prodigal Father, and a Pharisaical Brother” (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32)

Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 27, 2022

“A Prodigal Son, a Prodigal Father, and a Pharisaical Brother” (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32)

In our text today from Luke 15, the scribes and Pharisees are tut-tutting Jesus because he was hanging around with tax collectors and other obvious sinners. And he was not only welcoming them, Jesus was even having meals with them, table fellowship. “This man receives sinners and eats with them,” the scribes and Pharisees grumble–not even using Jesus’ name, just calling him “this man,” with a sneer in their voice.

Yeah, this was too much for these pious and respectable religious leaders. They figured a true servant of God would not associate with those lousy lowdown sinners. So Jesus figures he needs to teach the scribes and Pharisees a lesson or two about how God operates, what God’s plan is. And so he tells them a story. It’s the parable of “A Prodigal Son, a Prodigal Father, and a Pharisaical Brother.”

The story begins: “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them.” Look at how disrespectful this son is! He wants his share of the inheritance, and he wants it now! He can’t wait until the appropriate time, which would be after his father’s death, but that could be years from now. No, he wants it now! It’s like he’s saying, “I wish you were dead, Dad!” But amazingly, the father gives it to him.

And what does the young man do with his share of the inheritance? “Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.” He leaves home, disgracing his father in front of the town. He goes off to a far country. He’s far from home, both in terms of distance and his mindset. The young man squanders all his wealth in reckless living. That’s why he’s called the “prodigal” son. “Prodigal” means “wasteful,” lavish,” “extravagant.”

“And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need.” This young man has been very unwise. Now that he’s wasted all his resources, this is when he really needs them. “So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs.” From living high on the hog, now he is living down among the hogs! He’s reduced to feeding pigs, which would be especially humiliating for a Jew. “And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.” This boy is hitting rock bottom. He’s bottoming out and beginning to recognize his folly in leaving home.

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ The young man comes to his senses. And he’s come up with a plan. He will go back home and confess to his father that he has sinned against heaven and against him, and that he’s no longer worthy to be called his son. So far, so good. He’s right in what he says. But that next part, “Treat me as one of your hired servants”: Does he really think a work-it-off scheme can atone for how terribly he has done wrong?

How about you? Do you recognize how foolishly you have lived over the years, in the dumb ways you’ve acted in your life? The many ways you’ve gone astray from the right way to live before God and man? Do you see how you have wasted the gifts that your heavenly Father has given you? If so, come on home!

That’s what the prodigal son does. “And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” This is truly an amazing father! And here, as Jesus does in many of his parables, he stretches reality a bit to make a point. For what human father would be standing at his door every day, for months on end, looking out and waiting for his son to return? But that’s what God does. And what self-respecting ancient Middle-Eastern father would run out to greet a son who had humiliated him so? You just don’t do that! But this father does. And you can feel the emotion in the father’s heart as he embraces his son, falls on his neck, and kisses him! What a picture of God’s grace and mercy and compassion toward us prodigal sinners!

Now the returning son starts in with his prepared speech: “And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’” But now watch what happens! Before the son gets to the “let me work it off as a hired servant” part of his speech, the father cuts him off!

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” You see, the father doesn’t want another servant. He wants his son back! No work-it-off scheme necessary! And now that he’s got his son back, it’s time to celebrate! And here’s why I call this father the “prodigal” father: because he’s so extravagant, so lavish, in the welcome-home celebration he calls for. A robe and a ring, to restore the young man to full sonship. And a Grade-A fattened calf for the celebratory meal! Dad is pulling out all the stops to welcome his lost son home!

Friends, this is how our heavenly Father is toward us. He’s lavish, extravagant–“prodigal,” if you will–in how warmly he welcomes us. In your baptism, God has clothed you with the robe of Christ’s perfect righteousness. He forgives your sins and restores you and reassures you that you are his own dear child. He holds a celebratory meal for you here in the Lord’s Supper, in which you receive a foretaste of the feast to come in heaven. And in this meal, we feast on, not a fattened calf, but the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. God loved us so much that he sent his only Son–the one faithful Son, Jesus Christ–to live and die for us, to be the sacrifice to atone for all of our wasteful, runaway, rebellious misdeeds. What a loving, lavish, extravagant God we have!

So the party is underway. The celebration has begun. But what of the father’s other son, the older one? “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in.”

The prodigal son was lost when he ran off far from home. But this other son, the older one–he was lost all the while he stayed at home! He just doesn’t get it! He should be rejoicing that his brother is back. He should be joining his father in the big celebration. But he isn’t. He’s standing outside. He’s being resentful toward his brother. And he’s being rude toward his father by refusing to come in.

So what does the father do? He comes out to this jerk of a son. “His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’”

Mr. Self-Righteous, this older son is. And rude and disrespectful, too. He doesn’t even address his father as “Father.” He just jumps to an angry “Look!” “Look, I’ve been slaving away for you all these years.” See, he just doesn’t get it. He’s thinking he’s been working as a slave, not a son. “And what have I got out of this deal? Not much. But here this son of yours. . . .” Notice, he doesn’t even acknowledge his brother as his brother. He’s just “this son of yours.”

But the father is kind and patient even to this disrespectful older son: “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” What an amazing father! To this rude son who won’t even call him “Father,” he calls him “son.” And to this older brother who dismisses his younger brother as “this son of yours,” the father reminds him that he’s “this your brother.”

And now do you see why I call this parable the story of “A Prodigal Son, a Prodigal Father, and a Pharisaical Brother”? Because the older brother in the story is acting like the Pharisees, who are standing right there in front of Jesus. Jesus is welcoming repentant sinners back home, but the Pharisees are grumbling like the older brother. They should be rejoicing and joining the party, but instead they’re standing outside, refusing to come in.

Friends, it’s Jesus who is doing the amazing thing here. Like the prodigal, extravagant father in the story, Jesus is welcoming lost sinners back home. “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” The Pharisees meant it as a harsh criticism. You and I–we know it to be our life and our greatest joy: This man, Jesus, receives sinners and eats with them! That’s us! Welcome home, brothers and sisters!

Published in: on March 26, 2022 at 4:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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