Summary: Where do you "fit in" to the parable of the Prodigal Son"?
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
What are we to make of this parable?
I think that this parable is the parable that most shows what God is trying to reveal to us in sending Jesus into the world.
In the story Jesus tells, the younger son goes off with his inheritance and blows the whole pile of money on partying, women and fancy clothes until finally he doesn't have two cents left to rub together.
So, he has to get a job and work or starve to death.
And the best job he can find is on a pig farm.
And he keeps working only long enough to figure out that the pigs are getting a better deal than he is.
And so, he decides to go home.
But there is nothing noble about his decision.
There is nothing that speaks about him having any great character or anything.
There is no indication that he even realizes he's made a jerk out of himself and broken his father's heart.
There is no indication that he thinks of his dad as anything more than a meal ticket.
There is really no sign that he is sorry for what he's done or that he's resolved to make amends somehow and do better next time.
It's almost as if he's the kind of person who is only sorry that he robbed a bank because of the fact that he got caught...
...otherwise, he wouldn't be sorry at all.
The young man in Jesus' parable decides to go home for the simple reason that he knows he always got three square meals a day at home, and for a man who is in danger of starving to death, that is reason enough.
So he sets out on the return trip and on the way rehearses the speech he hopes will soften his dad's heart enough so that at least he won't slam the door in his face: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
I no longer deserve to be called your son."
"That will hit him where he lives if anything will," the boy thinks, and he goes over it again--trying to get the inflection just right and the gestures right...
...and just about the time he thinks he has it down, the old man spots him coming around the corner and starts sprinting toward him like a maniac.
Before the boy has time to get so much as the first word out, he throws his arms around him and all but knocks him off his feet with tears and hugs and incredible laughter.
The boy is back, that's all that matters.
Who cares why he's back.
And the old man doesn't do what almost any other father under heaven would have done.
He doesn't say he hopes he has learned his lesson or "I told you so."
He doesn't say he hopes he is finally ready to settle down for a while and will find some way to make it up to his mother.
He just says, "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!"
And when the boy finally manages to slip his prepared remarks in edgewise, the old man doesn't even hear them--he's so happy.
All he can say is that the boy was dead and is alive again.
The boy was lost and is found.
And then, what Jesus as the teller of the parable says is "They began to celebrate."
Celebrate, of all things?
They turn on the stereo.
They break out the best Scotch.
They roll back the living room carpet and call up the neighbors.
And then, and then, there is the other character in the story.
The word sin is somehow too harsh a word to apply to the reaction of the younger boy's older brother when the sound of the hoedown reaches him out in the pasture among the cow patties...
...and yet in another way it is just the right word because nowhere is the deadliness of sin more deadly than it is in him.
Envy and pride and anger and covetousness, they are all there.
Even sloth might be there as he sits on his inheritance and lets it gain interest for him.
He looks down in judgment on his brother's past.
The older son is a good person in the worst sense of the word.
He really is a caricature of all that is joyless and petty and self-serving about all of us.
The joke of it is that of course his father loves him anyway, and has always loved him and will always love him...
...only the older brother never noticed it because it was never love he was trying for but only what was due him.