Our story the Prodigal Son is set in the context of a crowd of people gathering to hear Jesus, and a group of Pharisees and scribes are grumbling about how Jesus welcomes people they consider unclean to eat with. So, Jesus tells them a parable. “There was a man who had two sons. The younger told his father that he did not wish to wait for his inheritance. I need it now.So, the father divides the money to his sons”. In the Jewish culture of the day, two-thirds of the inheritance went to the oldest son, and one-third went to the younger son. This farm is a family business, and along with inheritance children were expected to take on the responsibility of the estate, not to take their share of the estate and leave.
In our parable the younger son takes his inheritance money in the form of resources to spend and tries to get as far away from his family as possible, and in our story spends his funds foolishly. When a famine hits the land, he hires himself out to a local farmer. He is sent out to feed a herd of pigs, which is an insult to his faith, because in Judaism pork is unclean. He recognizes that he is on the bottom of his game, starving, with no way out, except possibly one. He decides to head back home. Perhaps his father will accept him back, not as a son, but as a hired hand.
His father sees him coming from a distance and runs down to meet him. He meets him with a hug and a kiss. The boy has experienced the agony of defeat, the fear of death and poverty, and yells out: “Father forgive me for I have wasted my inheritance, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son”. The father instead tells his servants to go and find the finest robe in the house, a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And, to kill the fatted calf. Let us eat and celebrate, for this son of mine was dead and is alive again. He was lost and is found”
We all know that the older son does not want anything to do with this celebration, and he expresses his anger and frustration with his father. His complaint is that he has been faithful with his allegiance to the family and to the estate, and the father has never honored him by throwing a party to celebrate. “When did you ever have the fatted calf killed on my behalf”. The father responds: “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 15:1-3, 11b-32)
How does this story apply to us? Who is the son or the daughter that takes off and finds themselves in a world of hurt? I like to think that both children need love. Both need encouragement. The younger son was high-strung, and the way he lived brought problems into his life and made some big mistakes. But, in my opinion of this story, he sees the error of his way, and in humility admits his mistakes and asks for any source of reconciliation available.
He needed encouragement. He needed loving. How many of you have had a child or maybe a close family member or friend that has made major mistakes, and maybe hurt your feelings in a terrible way? I can’t imagine not forgiving your child for foolish mistakes, especially if the child is remorseful. I remember when my oldest son Nate was infatuated with the idea that his older friend had a little motor bike, and some of the other kids were taking rides on it. I did not think he was old enough to ride on it, and he made a promise to me that he would not ride. I came home from work that same day and was told that Nate was in his room with a hurt arm. He rode the bike, fell and broke his arm. He was afraid of my reaction. And, we all know what all good parents do. We forgive our children and we shower them with love. We are all in this circle called the family of God. The message is this: God loves you. Not for what you have done or the way you have lived in the past, or what you do and the way you live in the future. God loves you. Right here, and right now. You are a child of God, and you are loved.
I like to think that the other son has a good complaint. He is hurt and expressing a “what about me” attitude. And, just as the father responds to his younger brother in a compassionate way, he should also respond in a loving way to the older son and let him know that he is also loved. To thank him for being a faithful steward with his inheritance. But, to let him know, he is loved not because he has been a good or bad steward, but because he is the father’s son.
That’s the message to everyone in this room this morning. God loves you. Not for what you have done in the past or how you live in the future, but right here, right now. God loves you. You are a member of the family of God, and you are eternally caught up with this thing called the church, this thing called resurrected life. You have been called, and you have responded.
We all make mistakes. That’s why we have confession. We confess our faults to God and others, for what we have done wrong knowingly and those things we have done wrong unknowingly. God loves us. Do not be afraid to come to God when you are facing a problem or when you have made a mistake. We are human. We all have had our share of hard knocks, some of you more hard knocks than others of us. Lord help us to be sensitive to each other, especially in the time of crisis.
My brothers and sisters: “This is God’s Holy Ground, and you are God’s Holy People”.