Summary: The Prodigal Son has gone away, and has come home again. The Loving Father has permitted him to go, but has watched and waited and welcomed him home again with celebration. Now the Elder Brother wonders why. How could God love like that? Is this really how God loves?
Lent 4—March 22, 1998
Luke 15 1,2; 11-32
A Picture, A Story
The sun has already set and daylight has mostly faded and gone. The big house is dimly outlined between tall old trees against the fading glow in the sky. But there is light piercing out into the darkness from the big house, shining from every window, and from an open door.
There is sound coming from the big house as well as light. It is the sound of music and of people laughing. Dishes are ringing together— it is a party!
In the foreground of this picture stand two figures silhouetted in the light from the door. Two men are talking. As the light reflects on their faces we can see that they remarkably resemble each other. It is a father and a son. They are in serious conversation.
"I heard you were out here. Why don't you just come on in."
"You know why! *He's* in there!"
"He is your brother! You know how I love him. I'm so glad he is home!"
"How could you! love him?
~ ~ ~
We came in, of course, near the end of this familiar story. The Prodigal Son has gone away, and has come home again. The Loving Father has permitted him to go, but has watched and waited and welcomed him home again with celebration. Now the Elder Brother wonders why.
How could God love like that? Is this really how God loves?
The answer is yes, God loves like that! Love like that is the heart of the Gospel. It is what Jesus is all about. Whoever you are, God loves you. Wherever you are, God's grace can reach you. John 3:16. Grace does not quit.
It is harder to be damned than you might think! You have to fight God's love. His love will follow you. His grace will meet you when you come to yourself. Love "like that" is great when you are a Prodigal Son or Daughter. You can come home again. That is what the story says. We are so familiar with it that we think that maybe that is the whole point of the story. (But do you remember to whom Jesus was telling that story— in fact the three stories of Luke 15?)
Love "like this" is NOT always welcome. It is surprisingly easy to resent it when God's grace goes to work in other people's lives. Resentment and envy and greed can close out the love and the grace that reaches clear around the world. Selfishness closes the door to God's grace. We think the story is about a son who went away and was lost. But don't you think that the resentful brother was lost, too?
This story tells us that you don't have to run away to be lost. There are people right here, right now who are good people, and who have never caused a scandal, and who have never been in outward rebellion but inwardly they are lost.
We're the good child in the family. We've stayed at home. We deserve to be blessed. It is hard to not be resentful of God's grace at work in others. Doesn't God understand how hard we've worked to be good? Shouldn't we be rewarded for our efforts?
The answer is yes. But we are so often blind to truth that God has already blessed us with his presence in our lives. God is here with us, and always has been, and always will be. In our resentfulness, we fail to recognize this truth. And just about the time we know we are worthy— and certainly a lot more worthy than "those others" we are just as lost as they are!
~ ~ ~
We came in near the end of the story. The two men stand outside, now in darkness so deep the outline of the big house can no longer be seen. The bitterness has been poured out. The loving answer has been given in return. The lights still shine out— the laughter and the music still can be clearly heard.
"You have been here with me— I've been here for you all the time, son."
"You never had a party for me!"
"All that I have is always yours! Come on in!"
And there the story leaves off. This is a story that never really ends. Did the elder brother find grace to open his heart to the joy? Can he open his heart to forgive? Can he open to the possibilities of God?
Maybe Jesus left the ending up to the Pharisees and scribes that day. Maybe one or two of them was smart enough to see himself in the elder brother and confess and believe and repent and swallow his pride and walk into the light and join the party!