The Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke is one of the most popular parables in the Gospels. The message is powerful, full of emotion and meaning. I like to think of the parable as not just about a son, but a child, a child that could be either a son or daughter, because the story is applicable to all of us. But, since the parable is about the lost son that is restored back to his father and family, we will refer to the lost son, but knowing this teaching is applicable to all of us regardless of gender. (Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32)
The parable is about a man that had two sons. The younger son asks his father to give him his inheritance now instead of later. So, the father divides the inheritance between the two sons. The younger son gathers his inheritance and takes off to a distant country…not the neon lights of the big city, but similar thoughts of escape and fantasy, I’m sure. The son wastes his inheritance in self-indulgence and not only is he out of money, but to add misery to insult, there is a famine in the land. Jobs are scarce and opportunities few. He hires himself out to a pig farmer. He recognizes that even the pigs are eating better than he is, and no one is willing to assist or give him anything.
The son realizes that he has bottomed out, and when you are on the bottom it can ‘shake you right to the bones’. All of us have been in situations in our lives that have brought us to our senses. Sometimes in the darkest hours we are forced to let down our guard, consider our options and do whatever is necessary to make things right. When you are on the bottom, the only way out is up, and that requires humility, true heart searching and desperate means. In this parable the son realizes that his fathers hired hands are much better off than he is, and he acknowledges that if there is not a change he will surely die of hunger. So, he drafts a plan of action to return to his father.
So, the younger son sets off to return, but the father sees him coming from far off, runs to meet him, holds him in his arms and kisses him. Then the son turns to his father in humility and true repentance. He confesses his wrongdoing and says he is no longer worthy to be called his son. But the father turns it around into a time of celebration and jubilation. He tells his servants to bring out the best robe they have, put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And to prepare a meal, so they can eat and celebrate together, “for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. Let’s party down”!
Before we go any further let’s look at the first two verses of the passage to put this parable into context. “All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, this man welcomes sinners and eats with them”. (Luke 15:1-2)
When Jesus moves into our neighborhood he comes to share his love with all people not just the ones that seem to have their act together. He loves us all, regardless of what shape we find ourselves in. Another contextual theme of this parable is found in the last two verses of the passage, when the older son says: “I have never disobeyed your command, yet you have never had a celebration like this for me, and now look my younger brother comes back after spending all of his money on selfish pleasure and prostitutes, (or as Popeye would say “women and houses of ill repuke”) The father responds, with these words and the words have a powerful message: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 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”. (Luke 15:30-32)
There is another famous parable about the Good Shepherd. (John 10) Remember the story of the shepherd that had 100 sheep, but one of them is missing, so he leaves the 99 to go and find the missing one, just as the younger son was welcomed back to the family, not because he loved the younger son more than the older son, and in the shepherd parable, not because he loved the one missing sheep more than the 99 that were not missing. But, the younger brother was lost, and he was on his way to total destruction, but now he is back. Now you can rejoice, celebrate and party-down.
We can also look at this story from a different viewpoint. You are the one that Jesus is after. You are the one that is on the outskirts. You are the one that Jesus welcomes and eats with. And you are the one that is outside of the fold and Jesus is welcoming you back in. The message here is that every one of you here are loved, just as you are. “And, love covers a multitude of sins. Love takes care of almost anything”. (1Peter 4:8)
Instead of dismissing those on the outside who don’t seem to have any regard for God; don’t seem to have any regard for the church; don’t seem to have any regard for common decency…Jesus loves them, and Jesus loves you. Jesus loves us all. You are the one that is always welcome in the family of saints. God loves you just the way you are. The psalmist says: “Happy are those whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sin is put away” (Psalm 32:1)
In our first reading from Joshua this morning, Joshua leads the people into the Promise Land. The manna they were eating in the desert ceased, because now they are eating from the bounty of the land, the land of ‘milk and honey’, the land of the blessings of God; the blessing of fulfilled destiny. God has brought them in. Their journey has taken them into a land of promise. (Joshua 5:9-12) And, just as Jesus in our parable reaches out to the good, to the ornery, to those that misbehave, and to those that behave; he reaches out and says: “I love you, and I am going to bless you with my presence. Walk with me on this journey, as we travel through the season of Lent toward Easter and toward the heavenly city of Jerusalem, where “there is no need of a light, for Jesus will be our light. He’ll reign and he’ll shine ever bright”.
“We shall see the city, the city, the city of God, and there will be no night there, neither the need of a light. For Jesus will be our light. He’ll reign and he’ll shine ever bright. And we shall see his face, and his face will be our joy”. (Revelation 22:1-5)
“And, love covers a multitude of sins. Love takes care of almost anything.”
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen