Summary: The parable of the prodigal son demonstrates the nature of grace
March 31, 2019
Hope Lutheran Church - Pastor Mary Erickson
The Measure of a Father’s Love
Friends, may grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and Christ Jesus our Lord.
There a lot of people who have taken advantage of DNA testing. Television commercials show surprised people when they discover a branch of ethnicity they didn’t know existed in their heritage.
Part of unwinding this long double helix defining us includes common strands of DNA with other people. As more and more people have their DNA tested, we’re beginning to see more stories of people connected with lost relatives. They meet the brother they never knew they had. Or DNA leads them to their biological mother.
Their reunions are so touching. They embrace; there are tears of joy. But always there is a story! There’s a story of how the separation occurred in the first place. Something happened to create that separation. Digging it up can create a pain of its own as painful memories are brought to the surface. Or perhaps it uncovers a deep secret from the past.
Today we hear a story of family separation and reunion. The emotions are all over the place – great joy and fuming rage. It’s not a real story, it’s a parable. But the characters are so vivid and relatable that they are like real in our minds.
Jesus told the story to a group of miffed Pharisees. The Pharisees were a movement of lay men who had dedicated their lives to walking a holy pathway. They spurned sin and earnestly resolved to align their thoughts and actions with godly living.
They’d been watching Jesus. Of any group, Jesus’ ministry most closely resembled that of the Pharisaic movement. But when they saw Jesus associating with people like tax collectors, people they clearly saw as living in active sin, they could not hold their peace. They grumbled.
Now, that word in the Greek for their grumbling is an imperfect verb. It implies that they’re not just grumbling. They’re grumbling and grumbling and grumbling. They just can’t let go of it! It’s a continual source of complaint. Every time Jesus’ name comes up, there it is again! “THAT MAN eats with SINNERS!”
Something is grievously out of whack according to their understanding of righteousness. Jesus should spurn these people, not welcome them! Some of their stain will tarnish Jesus. And his fellowship with them gives the impression that they’re okay, and they’re NOT okay.
So Jesus tells them this story. It’s a caring, pastoral response to their ire. He wants to tell them about the true measure of love’s scope. He begins: “There was a man who had two sons.”
He goes on to tell the story so familiar to us. The younger son approaches his father one day. He requests to receive his inheritance now. He doesn’t want to wait until his father dies. It’s really quite rude. It’s like he’s saying, “You’re dead to me, Dad.”
And it’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion. You know this kid is going to blow through the money! “Don’t do it!” we yell at the father. But he does do it. We can imagine that there might need to be some liquidation of the greater estate to come up with the funds for Junior. It would have taken some time. And surely, Dad had people advising him against this end, including his older son.
We can read between the lines of the story. Older son, Chief, is left at home. Now he’s the only son. And he watches his dad’s grief. He witnesses first hand how his father suffers over the loss of this self-absorbed younger son. Chief cringes when people ask his father, “So, how many sons do you have?” How Dad struggles! Does he say “only one,” or does he go into the long, painful explanation, “Well, I used to have two…”
And now Chief now pulls double duty. There’s only one son when there used to be two. All of the responsibility, all of the chores fall on his shoulders. He knows how his father’s heart broke when Junior left. He’s determined not to let his father down. He’s fierce in his loyalty.
When Chief thinks of his younger brother, his heart boils with molten rage. Good riddance! Junior deserves what he’s got coming. His brother is dead to him.
Meanwhile, Junior has blown through all his money. Like a dog who followed his nose and got lost in the next county, Junior is far, far from home. He’s penniless and homeless. Desperate for means, he finds work for a pig farmer. A PIG farmer! This Jewish boy is feeding pigs!
Jesus reaches the turning point of the story. He says that the son “came to himself.” He came to himself. It’s the moment when the bubble burst and at last he could see clearly. In 12-step terms, he hit the bottom. The moment hit him as he was throwing slop to the pigs.