All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him. The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Jesus told them this parable:
Jesus said, “A certain man had two sons. The younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the inheritance.’ Then the father divided his estate between them. Soon afterward, the younger son gathered everything together and took a trip to a land far away. There, he wasted his wealth through extravagant living. “When he had used up his resources, a severe food shortage arose in that country and he began to be in need. He hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. He longed to eat his fill from what the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything. When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, but I’m starving to death! I will get up and go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son. Take me on as one of your hired hands.” ’ So he got up and went to his father. “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. His father ran to him, hugged him, and kissed him. Then his son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! Fetch the fattened calf and slaughter it. We must celebrate with feasting because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life! He was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his older son was in the field. Coming in from the field, he approached the house and heard music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what was going on. The servant replied, ‘Your brother has arrived, and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he received his son back safe and sound.’ Then the older son was furious and didn’t want to enter in, but his father came out and begged him. He answered his father, ‘Look, I’ve served you all these years, and I never disobeyed your instruction. Yet you’ve never given me as much as a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours returned, after gobbling up your estate on prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’ Then his father said, ‘Son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive. He was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, CEB)
The story above is the story we usually refer to as the prodigal son. But is this story about the son? And if so which son, because there are two.
And we refer to this chapter as the chapter of repentance. And if you remember from yesterday’s devotion, there are some bad jokes about sheep and coins repenting. I’ve been baaaad and I promise I’ll change. But even those stories are not about the lost sheep or the lost coin. They don’t begin, there was a sheep who had 99 other sheep under the shepherd, or there was a coin who along with 9 other coins belonged to a woman. There was a shepherd who had 100 sheep and there was a woman who had 10 coins.
And today’s story doesn’t start, there was a man who had an older brother and a father. No. It begins, there was a man who had two sons. The story is not about the younger son, but about the father.
Now the younger son gets the credit for this story because he wants his father dead so he can have his money. Then he goes off and spends the money. And how? He wasted his wealth through extravagant living. He had parties and bought expensive things. But then he came to his senses. But again this is not a story about a son, but a father.
A father who heard his son say I wish you were dead and instead of saying get out, he loved his son and divided his wealth and gave what would be the younger sons to him. And then he let his son leave. And then the father just believed his son had died? No.
The younger son came to his senses and knew that if he returned home he could ask to be a hired hand on the family farm because the servants have plenty and there was room for him. So he returned with his planned speech for his father. But the reading says, “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. His father ran to him, hugged him, and kissed him.” His father was not sitting in the house waiting, he was out looking for his son, walking the edge of the property, in my opinion, watching and waiting for his son to return. And when the father saw the son coming, he ran to him. The father ran. Men of this man’s stature would not run, they had servants for that. But he humbled himself and ran and kissed his son because he knew he would return and he did.
This story reminds me of the film Finding Nemo. Where Marlin goes out looking for his son who was taken. He goes and hangs out with sharks and sea turtles and faces the East Australian Current. He faces all kinds of dangers because he knows his son is out there and needs him. And that is what the father does for the son. He knows the son needs him, even when the son doesn’t know that.
And let’s not forget the older brother, who throws a royal hissy fit when he finds out the fatted calf was slaughtered for a party for the freeloader who is now going to weasel in on more inheritance. He doesn’t like that his father has accepted the return of the brother, and doesn’t get it. That the love of the father is all-encompassing and goes to lengths that none of us are prepared for.
You see the Loving Father is a better name for this story because the father here doesn’t care what anyone else thinks but is willing to love his children no matter what. And the father here will humble himself and disregard what the world says he would do as a man in his station of life. He side steps the rules of engagement and dishonors himself so many times.
- Giving the younger son the money
- Allowing the younger son to want/say he id dead
- allowing the younger son to leave
- allowing the younger son to return
- Running to the younger son
- Giving the younger son a robe (This was one of the father’s best robes)
- Giving the younger son sandals (This was a mark of being a member of the household and not a slave)
- Giving the younger son the ring (This was a signet ring, one to seal documents for the family)
- Leaving the party for the younger son to talk to the older son
God does all of these things for all of us. God is ready to run to you and love you where you are. Know that no matter what you have done or where you have gone, God is always right behind you ready for you to be loved.
Loving People. Loving God.