Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Our text for today is the Gospel just read from St. Luke, chapter fifteen. Today we are going to hear three perspectives. From the older son, the younger son, and the Father.
The Younger Son
I was such a fool. In my arrogance I told my father I wished he was dead. I told him I wanted everything now. I left my home, my family who had always loved me, always taken care of me. I left my father and went off. I thought money would bring me happiness. I thought that stuff was the key. Or food. Or women. I tried it all. It was a sham. There was no happiness there. Oh it was fun for a while. Don’t get me wrong. But with each dollar spent, each desire fulfilled, I felt like a part of my soul was torn from me. Is this really what my father wanted? Was this really what was best for me?
I was such a fool. My hope was that my father would let me back in, that I could negotiate a deal where at least I could start to pay back some of my debt to him. That seemed reasonable at the time. He wouldn’t just forgive me, could he? That seems too good to be true.
He did. I still can’t believe it. My father must be crazy. He didn’t even let me get my whole speech out of my mouth! The robe, the ring, shoes, a feast given in my honor, like I am some kind of conquering hero! I didn’t do anything to deserve all of this. In fact, I did a lot to deserve death itself.
I love my father, but I sure don’t understand him. This is a greater reception than I could possibly imagine. Why would I feel like everything is upside down and inside out. I’ve done everything wrong and he’s paid the price for it. Now He gives me everything and I don’t deserve any of it. Crazy!
The Older Son
You have to admit that this Father seems pretty crazy, so thinks the older son. He clearly has never taken any parenting classes in tough love. What is he thinking? Doesn’t he know when he’s being taken advantage of ? How can he let his son do that to him?
Let’s review a few things in this story so we can soak in how absurd this Father really is. Imagine the first scene. The younger son comes to His Father and says, “Dad, I wish you were dead. Give me my part of the inheritance. I’ve got sinning to do and you’re holding me back.”
AND THIS CRAZY FATHER DOES IT!
Has He lost it? How can He be so irresponsible? Giving away His hard earned money to this deadbeat son of His. It is a scandal. What will all our, I mean his, friends and neighbors say?
And sure enough, off he goes, this son of his. Foreign lands. Foreign living. A “reckless lifestyle,” as they say. Clearly he doesn’t deserve all of the stuff he has. I even heard this young upstart lost it all. What a scandal! Crazy. My, I mean the younger brother got so low that he was below the pigs. The pigs! No self-respecting Jew would be caught dead with that kind of work. It just isn’t done.
And you won’t believe what happens next. This deadbeat, this sinner son, he actually comes to his senses. He realizes that he has blown it in a big way. So he has the gall to come groveling back. He has a plan, I’m sure. He probably wants to weasel his way back into father’s good graces. Make him one of the servants, something like that. I can imagine the scene in my mind, “Oh father, I have sinned against heaven and against you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me one of your hired servants.” What a joke. Surely father won’t fall for it. Will he?
He did. In fact, our Father didn’t just fall for it. He didn’t even let the deadbeat negotiate! “Put on the finest robe, the best rings, sandals and kill the fattened calf! My son was dead and is alive, was lost and is found.” I am so angry, I refuse to have any part of this charade, this gross miscarriage of justice. If things were fair, this son of his should still be groveling with the pigs. If things were fair, father would recognize that I am the good son. He should be rewarding ME for always obeying, and not squandering my future, my inheritance, on this loser, this sinner.
I love my sons. Both of them. But they don’t understand what it means to be a family. Not yet, at least. When my younger son said he wanted me dead, my heart broke. How can he do that? Doesn’t he know how much I love him? Doesn’t he know that going his own way will only lead to death and his own destruction?
He does now. I’ve given him everything. Everything. I hold nothing back from my sons, and I love them both. Some might call my love crazy or irrational. But being a family isn’t about being fair. It’s about mercy and love. It’s about giving and receiving. And if there’s one thing that’s true about families, it is that they don’t make sense.
My older son, my firstborn son, he still doesn’t understand all of this. He still thinks that because he is good on the outside, that that’s all there is to it. He doesn’t understand that love and family means mercy. It means not keeping track. It means giving and not keeping score. I love them both, but in many ways, my older son’s lack of mercy hurts as much as the younger son’s open rebellion.
So there you have three pictures or impressions from our Gospel. The older son is convinced of his own righteousness, even though he has no reason for it. The younger son has sinned greatly, and has seen the love of his father. And the father loves them both, is hurt by both, and yet continues to show mercy to them both, through thick and thin, hardship and joy.
So where are you in this story? Are you the younger son, waiting and hoping that your father will take you back? Are you the older son, convinced that you are right?
In many ways each one of us can relate to both of the sons. You have had your reckless moments, your prodigal times when you have sinned greatly against our heavenly Father. Maybe it was obvious and painful. Maybe it is secret and only you know of it.
Certainly we can relate to this older son. There is always a great temptation for the Christian to thumb our righteous noses down at anyone who doesn’t “get it” as much as we do. “Lord, I thank you that I am not like other Lutherans,” to paraphrase the Pharisee in another one of Jesus’ parables.
But here is the key. The Father, our Father, loves you whether you are young and foolish or young and arrogant. He loves you, young and old, with all of the warts and weaknesses and rebellion that you have and are. This is pretty amazing, the more you think of it.
And like those two sons, our Lord throws a banquet for you. He puts the finest robe of His righteousness upon you, gives you the ring that says you are a part of His family once again, and He kills the fattened calf, or lamb, for you. The banquet is perhaps above all a sign and token that you are a part of the holy family of God.
So come to the banquet. The feast is ready. The Father has come to you in His Son. He has made all things ready. Come to the feast.
Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
And now the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith to life everlasting. Amen.