Rejoice! That is the theme of this Sunday in this penitential season of Lent. It is important for us as we navigate this season confessing our sins that there is great reason to rejoice. We do not confess our sins with no hope of love and forgiveness. Rather, we confess our sins in the confidence that we will be forgiven and nothing separates us from God’s love.
The parable of the prodigal son shows us that we have great reason to rejoice in the Father’s love for us. In fact, the parable might be more appropriately called ‘the parable of the prodigal father’. Because even though the younger son went and lived a scandalous, reckless life for awhile, it is the father who is both scandalous and reckless in his love for both of his sons.
We begin with the younger son. Now here was a young man who obviously despised his family and most certainly his father. And the request that he was about to make was by no means random. It was planned. He had thought it through long and hard, and even though it was audacious by every stretch of the imagination, his disdain for life with his family usurped any such sensible reason.
Picture this: the young man walks into his father’s room and says, “Dad, I wish you were dead.” Oh, the text may say that he demanded his inheritance, but to receive an inheritance means what? The father must first die.
Though it may be hard to fathom speaking to our father in that way, if any of us have ever resented, begrudged, or even hated our parents, we can relate. Maybe it was because of jealousy because of favorable treatment they showed a sibling but not you. Maybe it was just because you didn’t like them telling you what to do.
At any rate, the remarkable response of the father to his son’s ridiculous request is that he didn’t hesitate to give it to him. His son just made the demand and the father gave it to him. No conditions whatsoever, he just gave it to him.
Now it should be noted that this would not have been a cash payout. This would have been a very public affair. From selling land, to bringing in grain and livestock to sell. It would have been a public disgrace to this family. Yet the father allowed it to happen.
And the younger son was in no way done disgracing his father’s family. He went and used his father’s wealth in reckless living. We don’t know what that included, but we can certainly imagine.
But that life of reckless living quickly changed when the money ran out. No doubt the entourage of so-called friends he had following him quickly vanished. And it was not long and he was alone. Alone and broke. Forced to turn to a life of filth, feeding pigs and longing to eat the food of those pigs as famine struck the land. Remember, Jesus is telling this story to a group of Jews, and Jews have nothing to do with pigs. So this would have been truly rock bottom in their eyes.
While staring longingly into that pig slop, the younger son remembered his father’s love. So he devised a plan. He would return home and he would admit his fault and take the form of a servant. He would work for his father.
But on the way back while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and immediately started running. Though the father may have looked foolish as he hiked up his robe and started sprinting, he didn’t care. He put all reputation aside to meet and greet his long, lost son. Hugs, kisses. And all the son could get out was a confession. The father didn’t even let him get out a word about being a servant. This was no servant. This was his son. His son that was now found, safe and sound.
This was a time to rejoice and celebrate. What we see here as the father put a ring on his finger, gave him a robe to wear and sandals for his feet, and killed the fattened calf is that the father’s love is beyond compare. It is downright reckless and scandalous. To think that this was the boy who wanted his father dead. To think that this was the boy who squandered his father’s property. To think of the shame this younger son had brought upon his family. But the father’s response was only to love and forgive, with no expectation whatsoever of having to earn that love and forgiveness.
What would such love look like in our workplaces, community, congregation, and families? What impact would there be to simply cast aside hard feelings and just love and forgive without conditions?
For so many of us, that just seems so impossible. We hold too much hatred and bear too much bitterness. We can’t even begin to think of rejoicing and living in a love like that.
And so we come to the older brother. In from a long day of hard work in the fields he came. Sweaty, dirty, here was a man who worked hard, and with a chip on his shoulder to boot. As the older brother, he was inclined to think he was entitled to favorable treatment. And that notion only grew when his brother ran off.
So when he came in and heard the celebration, he no doubt was instantly filled with bitterness wondering why a celebration was going on without him. But then, when he found out that the celebration was being thrown in his younger brother’s honor, that did it! No way was he going in to celebrate!
His fury raged at both his younger brother and his father. In no way did his younger brother deserve this treatment. He had disgraced their family. He was a loser. How could his father do such a thing? How could his father turn such a blind eye from all the shame that his younger brother had brought upon their family and throw such a party? His father had never even let him and his friends have a small party on their own. Now he was killing the fattened calf for this…this...you fill in the blank.
Yet while the older brother stewed in his anger, his father came out and initiated the conversation. He went to him, and he made clear that what he wanted more than anything was for both his sons to be present at the party. But the older brother wasn’t having it. He didn’t even call the younger brother his brother. He said, “this son of yours.” We can just imagine the anger seething with each word the older brother spoke.
But the father didn’t take issue with such an insult to his family. Instead, he entreated him as his beloved child: “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.”
And with that the parable ends. It leaves us to ponder what happened next. Did the older son go in and join the celebration? Did he storm off and go back to his work filled with bitterness? Did he tell his father off and demand his own inheritance and leave the family? We don’t know.
What we do know is that this parable cuts us all to the heart. For as much as we like to associate with the younger brother who is lost and then found, it is more likely that we are more fittingly paired with the older brother.
How many of us struggle to forgive? How many of us bear grudges in our hearts? How many of us think we are entitled to better treatment because like that older brother, we just think we are better people?
After all, this parable was spoken to a group of Pharisees and scribes as well as tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees and scribes couldn’t believe that Jesus would eat with tax collectors and sinners. How could He associate with such filth? How could He associate with those who were like the younger brother who longed to eat from the slop fed to pigs?
Little did those Pharisees and scribes know, and so often, little do we know, that Jesus was sent by the Father to do just that. Though he had no sin, He became sin. He didn’t spend his time with the 'holier than thous'. He spent his time with sinners. The Father made clear that he wasn’t afraid to get a little dirty in the person of His Son.
Yet, how often do we not want to associate with someone because we think their sins are worse than ours? How often do we think we are better than others simply because we think we are in the position of judge? How often do we hold hatred in our hearts because we have the audacity to think that we are more deserving of salvation than someone else?
See in this beloved parable that the love of the Father is downright reckless and scandalous. Like the younger brother, He loves you in spite of the fact that you have squandered the gifts he has given to you again and again. He looks for you longingly when you have lost your way. And there is nothing sweeter to his ears than when you confess your sins. Because he just can’t wait to forgive you. He just can’t wait to lavish you in his love.
Like the older brother, He loves you in spite of your hardness of heart. Instead of waiting for you to come to Him, he goes to you even though it is the last thing you deserve. He gently shows you the error of your ways because more than anything He just wants to have you near Him. He wants to see your face smiling from ear to ear at the celebration that is to come. He wants to see your face light up when a sinner repents, and to join in rejoicing with him when someone comes to the knowledge of the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior.
Because nothing is more grand for the Father than to have His children with Him for all eternity. That is why in love for you, He willingly, voluntarily, and lovingly sent His Son into this world of sin to die your death. In the most reckless and scandalous form of love ever, He sat back and watched His Son bleed for you, breathe His last for you, cry out for you. He did that because that is what it took to save you. His love for you never ceases. There is simply nothing He would not do for you. He gave His Son into death for you. So, see that cross before you and know that your heavenly Father loves you.
So no matter how big the sin may be in your mind, confess it. Confess your reckless and scandalous living, your hardness of heart and your bitterness, and be forgiven. Then eat and drink of the Father’s love for you given and shed in His Son’s body and blood. He gives it you here today so that you may live in His forgiveness and join in the celebration that you who were once dead are now alive. You who were once lost are now found. So, come and rejoice in the Father’s love for you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.