This post is a little early because this text is not until later next month in the lectionary. But this is one of my favorite biblical stories and a parable and is after misunderstood, so it plays well into a blog I follow called the synchroblog. This months theme is “August Synchroblog – Parables: Small Stories, Big Ideas”.
We start with a parable from the 15th chapter of the Gospel of Luke…
And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.” And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. “But when he came to himself, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”” And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” And they began to celebrate. “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.” But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” And he said to him, “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.”” (Luke 15:11-32 ESV)
Now we know this story as the story of the prodigal son, because this story is obviously about the younger son in the story. We hear how he proclaimed his father dead and requested his portion of the estate. He then went away and squandered his money on prostitutes, and wild living.
Interesting that the story does not say he spent his money on prostitutes. It says he squandered his property in reckless living. Sure he spent his money wrong, but it says nothing about prostitutes. He did a lot of bad things, proclaiming his father dead and asking for money he was not due yet, but we are reading into the story when we say there are prostitutes. Now the older brother (I can hear y’all saying…). Yes the older brother did say prostitutes, but where did he get his information from? He stayed on the farm and was a good son, he couldn’t have known what he actually sent his money on.
And this story is about the younger son repenting… Then how does it fit with the other 2 stories that proceed it.
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” 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. “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And 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.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:4-10 ESV)
Now both of these stories have the line about repentance and angels rejoicing. Don’t get me wrong it does include repentance, and angels rejoice when we repent, but is this chapter about repentance? If so how does a sheep repent? And how does a coin repent?
A sheep repents by saying, “I’m sorry I’ve been baaaaaaaaad!” and a coin repents by saying, “I promise I’ll change!”
A sheep and a coin cant repent. The stories are about how far a person will go to search for that which they love. A shepherd loves his sheep and will do anything, including leaving 99 in the wilderness and possibly among wolves. The shepherd wants to find his sheep so he goes and looks for it. And the woman who only has 10 coins when she loses 1 she tears her home apart looking for it. When one has a little money you protect it and search all over when you lose it. But both of these people want to rejoice with all of those around them. It is a huge party like angels singing in heaven!
But if it is not about the repentance of the younger son, then what is this story about? Well look at how it begins. Does it begin, “Here was a man who had a father and an older brother”? Or does it begin, “There was a man who had a father and a younger brother”? No the story begins, “There was a man who had two sons…”
The story is about the father. The story is about a father who will go to any thing and dishonor himself to no end to get his beloved children back. The younger son returns and it says that while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. The father ran, something a man of his stature would not do. And we assume that this man also would not have left is property, but why? The stories that proceed this one show us the lengths a shepherd will go by leave the majority of his flock in a dangerous place to find one, and a woman who turns her house upside down. The father was looking for his son, be that on the edges of his property or where the son had gone to. He father still shamed himself by running to the son, after he let his son tell him he was dead. Then he sets his son apart from the slave by giving him shoes and a robe. And the ring is not just any ring, it is probably a signature ring of the house hold. The father listens to the son repent, but knows where his heart is because he turned around and came back, and there the father was all the time waiting for his son, his beloved child to turn around.
If you will it is the Finding Nemo story of the bible. The father that looks all over the ocean to save a son the has gone astray. He risked life and fin for the an that he loved. Isn’t that exactly what God does for each of us and the loving father did for the wayward younger son in the story?
And then there is the older son… The one who knows all the rules and keeps them. He does what is the right thing to do at the right time, and expects that to be what keeps him in good graces. He walks the line and keeps the rules. He is not happy when the younger brother comes back and gets what he as the older son who has kept the rules deserves. So he does what every good rule keeper does when grace comes in, he gets upset and will not join the rejoicing. So the Father dishonors himself again to go out from the party and get the older brother who needs to be involved in the rejoicing, because the father needs his family together. He needs all of us and will go to great lengths to get us all to the party.
So look to the Father and the rejoicing He is doing when we come back home, but also realize that are is following us as we walk away, waiting and hoping and following us the way. He loves us and will do whatever it takes to get us home.
Here are the other blogs that participated in this months synchroblog. Please give them a read!
Jesus’ Parables are Confusing? Good! – Jeremy Myers
Parabolic Living – Tim Nichols
Seed Parables:Sowing Seeds of the Kingdom – Carol Kunihol
Parables – Be Like the Ant or the Grasshopper – Paul Meier
Penelope and the Crutch – Glenn Hager
Parables and the Insult of Grace – Rachel
Changing Hearts Rather Than Minds – Liz Dyer