Summary: The parable of the prodigal son is equally as much a parable of the Loving, Waiting God, whom we call Father.
Sermon for IV Lent, Year C
Based on Lk. 15:1-3, 11-32
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
“The Waiting, Loving Father”
Today’s parable is regarded by many as the greatest parable Jesus ever told. It is a parable that fits in well with one of the favourite themes of Luke’s Gospel, namely: that Jesus has come to seek and save the lost, the poor, the outcast and sinner.
The parable begins with a description of the loose, prodigal living of the youngest son. First, he demands that his father give him his share of the property, allotted to him through his inheritance. In making this demand, the son shows considerable disrespect towards his father. According to Jewish customs back then, property was divided up as a family inheritance only after the parents died. This youngest son refused to wait until after his father died; he wanted his inheritance right now. It’s almost as if he were saying to his father: “You’re dead. I want my inheritance to leave you and my brother for a far country, with greener grass and a better life without both of you.” Yet, when he reached the far country, he was no better off.
He spent all of his money; he lived in a carefree, irresponsible manner. Even worse than that, reaching rock bottom, he took a job looking after pigs. For a Jew, to feed the pigs was one of the most degrading, unclean, horrible things to do; because there were laws against it; they were forbidden to eat or associate with pigs.
Many of us—perhaps all of us—at one time or another, in our own ways, are like the youngest son in this parable. In our sinful state, we too rebel against God, our parents, and other people who are in positions of authority. In our rebellion, we too, like the prodigal son, try to run away from God, our families, our friends and neighbours, or our responsibilities that we face in our daily work. As the youngest son traveled the youngest son traveled into the far country, seeking to fulfill his selfish wants; we too travel into far countries, for pleasure and selfish reasons.
Many years ago now, the rock group the Rolling Stones sang a song called: “I can’t get no satisfaction.” The prodigal son’s carefree, irresponsible living could not get no satisfaction either. The members of the Rolling Stones have had their difficulties getting satisfaction in their lives too. In their voyeuristic rebelliousness, they have struggled with drug addictions, and moving from one broken relationship to another. We too “can’t get no satisfaction” if we live selfish and irresponsible lives.
The far countries of voyeurism, irresponsibility and rebellion led the prodigal son to a state of mental, spiritual and physical death. It led him to reach rock bottom. He realized that it would be better back home as one of his father’s hired servants; than it was in the far country looking after pigs. So he rehearsed a repentance speech that he would confess to his father, once he returned back home.
Maybe the prodigal son hoped that if his repentance speech were successful, he’d be accepted as a hired servant; then he could prove himself and regain the trust of his father; so that eventually his father would accept him completely as his son again. But much to the prodigal son’s surprise, this doesn’t happen. The father accepted his prodigal son as soon as he saw him! Moreover, the father even cuts off the son’s repentance speech before he has the chance to say: “treat me as one of your hired servants.”
Then, with pomp and ceremony, the father welcomes his wayward son back into the family. According to the customs of that time, the best robe was reserved for distinguished guests and special occasions. In other words, the son was loved, forgiven and completely accepted royally by his father.
No matter how far away the country is that we have gone to; no matter how great a sin we are guilty of; God is like a loving, waiting, welcoming father; who accepts, forgives, loves, and welcomes each one of us back; just as the prodigal son was in today’s parable.
In the grande finale of our parable; after the celebration is underway; the elder son comes home after a hard day’s work in the field. When he finds out that his father has gone all out and thrown a big party to surpass all parties for his prodigal son; the eldest son is furious. This eldest son had stayed home all these years; had worked with his father faithfully every day and obeyed him. How could his father do this? Why would his father give such a royal welcome to this wayward son?
Out comes the father to speak with his oldest son; to welcome and invite him to join everyone for this great, celebrative, family reunion. However, all the oldest son is able to do is think of himself, how self-righteous he has been; thus he refuses to forgive his younger brother. Instead of the love and grace with which the father welcomed the youngest son; the eldest son preferred the law, which kept track of everything one does or fails to do. To make matters worse, the oldest son was so jealous, and selfish that he refused to call the younger son his brother. In verse thirty, instead of saying “my brother,” he said: “this son of yours,” which shows how hostile and distant he was towards his brother.