Luke 15:11-32

 

            11 Then Jesus said, "There was a man who had two sons. 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. 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. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 

            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. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 

            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! 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; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands." 

            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. 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.' 

            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. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate. 

            25 "Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, "Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.' 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. 

            His father came out and began to plead with him. 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. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!' 

            31 Then the father said to him, "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 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.” 544

 

 

My wife has this thing she does that has mystified me for most of the last 40 years.  When we get to the end of a movie we’re watching together, she will sometimes wonder what life would have been like for one of the characters if some event in the story had been different than it was.

Once, at the end of the BBC version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice—one of our favorites, Lorna turned to me and said, “I wonder what would have happened if Elizabeth had married Mr Wyckam instead of Mr Darcy.  Do you ever think about that?”

My immediate, and unspoken, thought was, “No, I don’t.  That’s not the way the story was written”.  And then she said, “What if she had accepted the offer from Mr Collins and become the vicar’s wife?  What if she had moved into the Hunsford parsonage and spent the rest of her life eating Sunday dinners at Rosings Park with Lady Catherine DeBourgh?”

And I thought to myself, “Good grief.  It’s a made up story.  It was written almost 250 years ago.  You can’t go changing someone else's book.  You can’t imagine what life might have been like if things had been different for a character who never existed in the first place”.  This made no sense to me.

Alas, as so often has been the case over those 40 years, it turns out my dear wife was right, and I was wrong.  You can, in fact, enter into someone else’s made up story, mess with the details and create alternative story lines and endings.  And in fact, thoughtful people like her have been doing just that for thousands of years.

I know this now because I went to school  last year.  I attended a weeklong workshop at the seminary where our daughter is studying and spent several days learning about an ancient Jewish practice called midrash.  Midrash, the teacher told us, is a way of “turning a story” to see what it says in a new light.  It’s like holding a diamond to the sun, turning it this way and that and watching as new colors flash out.

The word midrash means “to inquire into a matter”, and it has been used by rabbis since before the time of Jesus.  It is a way of reading the ancient stories in order to answer modern questions.

To do this, the rabbis do exactly what my wife does—they ask “what if” questions.  What if, for instance, Moses had not been rescued from the Nile River by Pharaoh’s daughter?   Sometimes they create modern characters and insert them into the ancient story and imagine how this new twist might change the outcome. (source—Wikipedia)

This is a way of reading the Bible so that we don’t just hear what God said back then, but we start to wonder what God might be saying today.

Now, I’ve told you all of that because for the rest of our time this morning, we are going to do a midrash on today’s passage—the story we call the “parable of the prodigal son”.  And just for starters, remember that is what we call the story.  Jesus didn’t give us this title and he never uses the word prodigal. 

So we can call it whatever we want;  we are free to look for meaning that hasn’t been found before.  We don’t live in the 1st century, after all, we live in the 21st.  Our problems and our questions are different from those Jesus was addressing 2000 years ago.

So today I’m calling this the “parable of the fearful brother”.  It goes like this.

Once there were two brothers who did not get along.  We don’t know why.  Maybe the younger was reckless or restless.  Maybe the older was a bully.  Maybe there was something about the number 2 boy that made him unwelcome in his own home.  Anyway, it was clear that there was not room for the both of them on the family farm.

So the younger one day asks his father for an early inheritance.  Surprisingly, the father agrees.  Did he know how hard the older brother was to live with?  Did he want his younger son to have the chance to grow up without constantly being beat up and put down?  Maybe.

Even more surprisingly, the father gives the early inheritance to both sons.  “He divided his property between them”, Jesus says.

Within days the younger brother is gone—off to a place where no one knows his name, his troubles far behind;  a place where he is free to make his own decisions—most of which turn out bad. 

Soon he is out of money.  Soon he is out of friends.  And soon he is slopping pigs on a stranger's farm.  And there, one day, he wakes up; he “comes to himself”, Jesus says.  He realizes the life of a servant back home is way better than this.  So he gets up and goes home.

And here the story turns.  Remember, the father has divided his property between the two boys.  This has consequences.  The younger son is going back to where his father lives, but he is also going back to the farm his brother now owns.  He’s not going home.  His home is gone.  He may gain his father’s good will, but his brother holds all the cards.

What will the bully do when little brother comes home empty handed?

But the boy gets lucky.  He comes over the hill in sight the home place when big brother is out working in the field.  The father, maybe retired by now and sitting on the porch, sees a rough looking character approaching.  With a father’s eyes and heart he looks through the rags and the muck and sees his son.

Before anyone else notices he is up and running.  He embraces the smelly boy and weeps over him.  The he begins ordering his sons’s servants—“Quick, get him a robe and a ring and some shoes.  And go kill the fatted calf.  Get the party started.  My son has come home!”

The party begins.  The music is loud  The dancing vigorous.  The father’s joy fills the house.  The angels in heaven are singing along.

Then the older son comes in from the field and is told his father is throwing a party for his brother.  His brother?  He has no brother.  His brother is dead—and good riddance to him.

Then he realizes it’s true.  And he is livid!

The father, so happy to have number 2 son back safe and sound can’t bear the thought of now losing number 1.  So he goes out to him and begs him to come inside.

Number 1 is close to a stroke.  His face is purple; the veins on his neck bulging.  “You never gave me so much as a goat” he spits.  “But when this son of yours comes back you kill the fatted calf for him!  And it’s my calf, father.  It’s my calf you’re feeding to him.  That’s my robe and my ring!   This is my house.  These are my servants.  Who’s paying for this party?”

And right there you have the central question in this story.  Forget what you’ve heard about the wasteful younger son who crawls home begging forgiveness.  The story isn’t about him.

And forget what you’ve heard about the father who forgives and welcomes the wayward one home.  The story isn’t about him either.

The story, today, is about the older son, the one who now controls the farm; the one who has been given everything by his father; the one—the only one, who has the means to welcome the father’s other son home. (S)

So who is paying for this party?  Answer me that, and you will understand this story.

“Who is paying for this?”, the older son demands to know.

“My child”, the father almost whispers, “everything I have is yours.  I was hoping you would pay for the party.  I was hoping you would have the heart to take him in and  welcome him home.   He’s your brother. 

“He never felt welcome here before.  And we thought was dead—he was as good as dead.  I was hoping, now that he’s come, you would make room for him. 

“Everything I have is yours.  This is why I gave it to you. I want my son—your brother, back home.  But don’t you see.  I can’t do this by myself; he can’t come home unless you welcome him.  My son, you must pay for the party”.

 

I probably don’t need to interpret this parable any further, but I’m going to anyway—because there is something here that is very important; something I care deeply about, and I believe you do too.  Here it is:

The church, and I don’t mean this congregation, I mean the church—the big church, has not, on the whole, been very good at welcome home parties over our 2000 years.  You know our failings.  It’s a painful list:

Slavery; genocide against Native Americans; the Holocaust; the deep racism that poisons our culture, limiting the lives our black and brown neighbors; fear of immigrants and refugees; hatred of Muslims and Jews we hear about every day now as Mosques are defaced and cemeteries are vandalized and innocent brown people are told to go back to their own country—just before they are shot and killed;  and the ill-will on the rise again against our lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender brothers and sisters—especially against the children.

The church—or large segments of it at least, has taken part, and is participating in each of these sins. 

The church is the older son in the parable; and all the father has is ours.  But over the centuries, and in many places still today, we remain strangely stingy.  We are not willing to pay for the party. 

Some Christians still are not willing to welcome home the homeless, to feed the hungry, to at least visit, if not free, the prisoner, to shelter the foreigner fleeing danger, to stand with the oppressed against hatred and bigotry.

Christianity has been made rich in the things of God, yet some are unwilling to host the party.

Which brings me to this church—and to you.  You know what I love about this congregation—about all of you?  You really do love a good party.  You love to feed people and to care for people.  You love to open the doors wide; you make sure everyone who comes through is welcome.

I feel like telling people, when they ask me about this church, to be careful coming here.  Because, once you come through the door, I want to say, the chance of escape is pretty slim.

I wanted you to hear that.  And I want you to know how much I love you—because of what I’m going to say next.

Our world, our country, is daily becoming a more dangerous, less friendly, less welcoming place to lots and lots of vulnerable people—some of whom live in our neighborhood.  Fear is the air we breathe today.   Something needs to be done.

So as good as you are at parties, as willing as you are to welcome anyone who comes here—you’re going to have to do better.

You are going to have to do more and you will have to do it better.  And you can.

“All that I have is yours”, the father said to the older son.  “All that I have is yours”, God says to us.

When it comes to the things of God—the things that make for welcome—kindness, mercy, justice, understanding, generosity, and peace—we are full and overflowing; we will never run out of the things of God.  Kindness, mercy, justice and generosity—these are boundless.  The more we give away today the more we receive to give away tomorrow.  In these things we are rich beyond measure.  We can afford the party of God’s welcome to the world.

But with so much fear building around us, we can no longer wait for those who are afraid to find us.  We have to find them.  We have to go looking for them.  We have to join with the angels in heaven and sing and dance so loudly we will be heard to the far side of Mt Horeb and beyond.

We have to stand up—today, for people who are being pushed down.  We have to speak up against those who spew hatred.  We have to pack up what we do so well here and take it out there to the people who, for whatever reason, aren’t inclined to come through these doors.

And we can do that.  And I will show you how.  But not today.  Stay tuned.

 

We are the older son in the parable.  The Father has given us all we need—abundant kindness, mercy, justice, generosity.  Like that son, we have kept the treasure safe.  But now it’s time to spend; it’s time to start the party. 

We have the room.  We have the means.

And today we have the invitation: “Celebrate!  Rejoice!  This brother of yours—this sister of yours—this child, has been found.  Come to the party.”  Amen,

Sermon - Brad Brookins

March 19, 2017 - Brad Brookins
00:00 / 00:00

Bible Study

Here's a good way to approach this:  1. Read the questions.  2.  Read the story.  3. Read the questions again and then write down your answers and any other questions that occur to you.  Keep in mind this type of reading is itself an act of prayer, so you want to stay open to what the story is telling you.

 

And #4--have fun while you do this

 

See you Sunday

 

Luke 15:1-32

 

1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." 3 So he told them this parable: 

4 "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 

8 "Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, "Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." 

11 Then Jesus said, "There was a man who had two sons. 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. 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. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 

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. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 

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! 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; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands." 

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. 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.' 

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. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate. 

25 "Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, "Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.' 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. 

His father came out and began to plead with him. 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. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!' 

31 Then the father said to him, "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 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.”

 

  1. vs. 1,2  Who are the sinners you “eat” with and what happens when you do?  Who are the sinners you refuse to “eat” with and what happens when you don’t?

  2. What is the most obvious answer to Jesus questions in vs 4 & 8?

  3. v. 7  Is there really more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who don’t need to repent?  Why?  What, then, is the point of being righteous?  When did the coin repent?  What does it mean to be righteous?  When did the sheep in the story repent?  Is the repentant sinner righteous?

  4. v. 9  How much would it cost you to throw a party for all your friends and neighbors?

  5. Why would the angels of God be joyful when a sinner repents?  (This is a serious question.)

  6. v.12  What is the significance of this sentence: “So he divided his property between them.”

  7. v. 13  Why did the son have to go to a distant country to waste his money?

  8. Keeping in mind the definition of “repentance” (metanoia—“change of mind; turning around”) from last Sunday, when did the younger son repent?  When did the older son repent?  When did the father repent?  When did you repent?

  9. v. 21  The younger says to his father, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son”.  Was he correct?

  10. How do you reconcile v. 12, “So he divided his property between them” with v. 29, “you have never given me even a young goat”?  What is the elder son so angry about?

  11. When taking to his father, the elder son refers to “this son of yours…”.  What relationship does the elder son claim toward the younger son?  What responsibility?

  12. v. 7 “joy in heaven”; v. 10 “joy in the presence of the angels”; v. 32 “we had to celebrate”.  Is God a party guy?

  13. Extra Credit Question:  What do you think—did the elder son join the party?

 

 

 

Commentary on Luke 15:1-32

 

Audrey West 

Lutheran School of Theology

Chicago, IL

http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3011

 

 

Number Two Son asks Dad for a handout, skips town, squanders his inheritance, and decides to come home only when he runs out of options.

Number One Son never shirks his responsibilities and does everything his father asks of him, but he resents his father’s gifts being showered upon his younger brother.

Which son needs to repent? Both. Which one deserves to feast on the fatted calf? Neither. And yet, both are invited to join in the celebration.

In conjunction with the two parables that lead up to it, the parable of the Prodigal Son is not just a good story about family dynamics. It is an illustration of God’s love for those who have remained faithful and also for those who have not.

 

More than enough

The three parables in this week’s reading constitute Jesus’ response to the Pharisees and scribes, who were grumbling amongst themselves about Jesus eating (repeatedly) with those people, "tax collectors and sinners" (Luke 15:1-2; see also Luke 5:29-30; 7:34).

Then and now, sharing a meal is a sign of inclusion and hospitality. It creates a bond among those who eat together. Some, however, prefer not to bond with those who are, in their view, less than desirable.

Like many who enjoy the benefits of privilege, the Pharisees and scribes very likely see themselves as the ninety-nine righteous persons in the parable of the Lost Sheep who do not need repentance. However, their complaint that cheats and rogues receive welcome at Jesus’ table sound very much like the complaints of the elder son about the extravagant celebration for the family scoundrel.

They (and the elder son) are caught up in zero-sum thinking; they fail to recognize that in God’s reign there is more than enough to go around.

 

Un-expectations

It is worth noting the unexpected actions of the parable characters. A shepherd cares so much for one lost sheep that he leaves ninety-nine behind in the wilderness. A woman expends significant energy to find her lost coin, and then hosts a party that likely costs her more than the coin is worth. A father showers gifts upon his disrespectful, wasteful son, simply because the kid shows up. Such are the ways of God.

Also worth noting, perhaps, are how such twists in expectations echo OT stories about two sons; Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob. Despite cultural regard for eldest sons, the younger (and often badly-behaved) sons emerge as favored ones.

By first-century standards, the prodigal son is way out of bounds. Not only does he ask for his share of the inheritance before his father is even dead (a highly presumptuous request that puts the whole family’s resources at risk), he runs off to a "distant country," separating himself from the people of God. He gets a job feeding unclean animals. He squanders all his money. His life choices are not the sort that parents would make public by inviting the neighbors to a party.

 

Repentance: a change of mind

 

The Greek verb for repentance (metanoeo; cognate noun metanoia) means to change one’s mind. That is, it represents a new way of understanding, a change of view, a way of seeing things that is different from before. Parables about repentance are designed to evoke repentance; that is, they reveal a new way of understanding.

As for the younger son, does he repent? Or is he simply looking for a way out of a terrible situation?

On one hand, the father extends his gracious welcome before the son even has a chance to finish his confession speech (compare to Pharaoh’s words in Exodus 10:16). In addition, there is no explicit mention of repentance in this third parable, even though the word and its cognates appear in Luke-Acts more than in any other NT writing. The parable says simply that the younger son "came to himself." We could say that he remembered who he was.

On the other hand, the parables of the lost sheep and coin both emphasize repentance as a cause for rejoicing. The very clear structural and thematic parallels between the Prodigal Son and these two parables suggest that repentance plays a role in all three stories. Preachers might consider, however, where the emphasis lies in the third parable. Is it not possible that the older son is the one most in need of a repentant change of perspective?

In the story-world of the parables, as in Jesus’ own ministry of table-fellowship, this kind of change does not happen as a result of punishment, shunning, or rejection. Instead, it results from the generous care of the shepherd for his lost sheep, of the woman for her lost coin, of the father for both of his sons, of God for each of God’s children.

 

Imagine the ending

 

From the eldest son's perspective, such generosity is simply not fair. He is the good son. He shows up for work every day. He does his job, lives properly, follows the rules. When he discovers the feast and celebration being offered to the younger son, who most certainly does not deserve it, he launches into a bitter tirade.

For all his righteousness, he refuses to recognize his own privilege. The father reminds him: “Son [literally, "child," a term of affection] -- you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours." In one sentence, the father affirms the closeness of their relationship and gently reminds his eldest son that he loses nothing by welcoming his own brother home and joining in the celebrations.

In the end, neither son deserves a party. The younger son breaks all the rules and violates his relationship with the father, while the older son lives in joyless resentment. Neither deserves a party, but both are welcomed. Will they celebrate together?

 

 

The Prodigal in F

Ralph Milton, United Church of Canada 

 

Feeling footloose and frisky, a feather-brained fellow forced his fond father to fork over the farthings and flew far to foreign fields and fabulously frittered his fortune with faithless friends.
Fleeced by his fellows in folly, and facing famine, he found himself a feed-finder in a filthy farmyard. Fairly famishing, he fain would've filled his frame, with foraged food from fodder fragments.
"Fooey, my father's flunkies fair far finer," the frazzled fugitive forlornly fumbled, frankly facing facts. Frustrated by failure, and filled with foreboding, he fled forthwith to his family.
Falling at his father's feet, he forlornly fumbled, "Father, I've flunked, and fruitlessly forfeited family fellowship favour."
The farsighted father, forestalling further flinching, frantically flagged the flunkies. "Fetch a fatling from the flock and fix a feast."
The fugitive's fault-finding brother frowned on fickle forgiveness of former folderol. But the faithful father figured, "Filial fidelity is fine, but the fugitive is found! What forbids fervent festivity? Let the flags be unfurled! Let fanfares flare"
Father's forgiveness formed the foundation for the former fugitive's future fortitude!