The Fourth Sunday in Lent; Year C (3/6/2016)

Lessons:Joshua 5:9-12 Psalm 32 (11) 2nd Corinthians 5:16-21 St. Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Prayer of the Day: God of compassion, you welcome the wayward, and you embrace us all with your mercy.  By our baptism clothe us with garments of your grace, and feed us at the table of your love, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

15:1 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.” 3So he told them this parable: 11 “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. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for 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.’

St. Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

 

A Father’s Prodigious Love

This story is known as “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.” It is misnamed. My American Heritage Dictionary defines prodigal as: “recklessly wasteful; extravagant; profuse in giving; exceedingly abundant; lavish; to squander.” Indeed, these adjectives aptly describe the younger son, yet the word “prodigal” even more aptly fits the father. This one who is so lavish in his love for his sons. This one who is reckless in entrusting such a fortune to a young man, not mature enough to steward it wisely. This one who is exceedingly abundant, to a fault, preferring to welcome his son home rather than hold him accountable for his foolishness. The father is one who displays a prodigious spirit in celebrating the younger son’s return.

Prodigious indeed, yet even more so with his love than with his wealth. Notice the context of the younger son’s return. His misadventure has humbled him. He is ashamed of his condition, desperate and claims to envy his father’s slaves. But the father knows none of this. All the father knows is that this son — this son who is the talk of the town — this son who has publicly humiliated the entire family with his behavior — this son who has as much as wished his own father dead… this son who was once dead, is now alive. This son who was once lost, is now found. So while the son is still far off, without a thought to his personal dignity, the senior landowner hikes up his robe, and recklessly races across the furrows to throw his arms around his son. The prodigious love of the father takes the shape of the best robe, the best ring, the best sandals, the best fatted calf, and the best party they’ve had since the young man left. The son is unconditionally welcomed home, and get this: it all happens before the son can even begin to confess his sins. It is pure gift. Pure grace. Prodigious love.

The father’s prodigious love doesn’t end here, either. When the older son (read: hard working, responsible, focused, dependable, dedicated to what is right and just…) returns from the fields, his anger runs as deep as his father’s joy. He explodes in rage at what is taking place. This shiftless, no good, wasteful, disrespectful scoundrel returns (the older brother won’t even refer to him as a brother; he is: “this son of yours”), and dad pulls out all the stops to welcome him home. It is wrong! He has had his! Besides, all that is left of the father’s wealth ultimately belongs to the older son (the younger has received his portion…). This party, given for one whom the older brother despises, is being funded by the older brother’s inheritance, without his permission. It isn’t right. And the older brother is scandalized.

But the father, prodigious by nature, continues to love. Even this stingy, self-centered, reluctant older son. Come in and join the party, son. Come in and join my grace, son. Come in and allow the gift of family to be more important than the lust for revenge. Come in and celebrate. The lost has been found. Life has replaced death.

And so it is with God, whose love is extended to the wise and to the foolish, to the responsible and the irresponsible, to the worthy and the unworthy. Thanks be to God for this image of strong, powerful, prodigious love. It is God’s gift for us too.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What insight does the younger son’s rebellion provide about human nature?
  2. What insight does the older son’s anger provide about the difficulty of forgiving?
  3. What insight does the father’s love provide about the nature of God?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When have I been like the younger son, in desperate need of grace and forgiveness?
  2. When have I been like the older son, reluctant to participate in God’s prodigal desire to forgive and renew?
  3. How does the father’s love inform me about what it means to be the church today?