Summary: A sermon on Luke 15:11-32.
The Older Brother
"Once a man had two sons. The younger son said to his father: 'Give me my share of the property.' So the father divided his property between his two sons." That's the dramatic beginning of a story that Jesus told. Who doesn't like to hear the end of it? Jesus had a knack for telling tales and mesmerizing his audience. Only beware: Jesus hardly ever summoned the crowd for pure entertainment. This story will get to us. As the story unfolds we may recognize ourselves in one of the main characters and it won't be one of the hero-types. We will be confronted with our innermost thoughts about God. Are they always positive?
"Once a man had two sons. The younger son said to his father: 'Give me my share of the property.' So the father divided his property between his two sons." Outrageous. The younger son was so keen on his inheritance that he couldn't wait until his father died. That's how the story starts off. Let's hear more of it.
The following happened: The younger son dared to ask for his share of the property right away, was lucky to get it, converted the estate to money and then took off to waste the fortune on wild living. When the money finally ran out, he came to his senses. When he got so low that he was craving pig feed but couldn't even get that, he said: "My father's workers have plenty to eat, and here I am, starving to death! I will go to my father and say to him: 'Father, I've sinned against God in heaven and against you. I'm no longer good enough to be called your son. Treat me like one of your workers.'"
With those words "the younger son got up and started back to his father. But when he was still a long way away, his father saw him and felt sorry for him. He ran to his son and hugged and kissed him." Let's take a break here. At this point the story astounds the listener. What a home-coming! What a welcome! Not only made this ancient patriarch a fool of himself by running toward his wayward son, he spotted him from a long way off and therefore must have scanned the horizon in the desperate hope that his long lost child might come back.
And as the story continues even more fantastic events unfold. Struggling with all the hugs and kisses the younger son eventually managed to say what he had intended to say, but his father didn't seem to take any notice and said to the servants: "Hurry and bring the best clothes and put them on him. Give him a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. Get the best calf and prepare it, so we can eat and celebrate. This son of mine was dead, but has now come back to life. He was lost and has now been found." What stunning plot development!
The younger son didn't deserve any of his father's favours. He brought nothing but shame on the family. Surely that cannot be forgotten. How can he be reinstated as heir? His father's love must have run deep and must have been stronger than all the hurt.
That being the case, maybe I can admit something. I harbor sympathies for the younger son. I know that I do so for the wrong reasons but I like that he was the rebel-type, that he broke away from the stuffiness of home and sought freedom. Fronting up before the patriarch and asking for his share of the property must have taken guts but he did it and then indulged his dreams. Even though he was irresponsible and wasted whatever he had, he did what his heart told him to do. There were no compromises. And in like manner: when he finally came back, he was back for good. He now knew about the dark sides of life and was happy at home. The younger son was quite a character receiving outstanding VIP-treatment on his return.
For all the wrong reasons I have to admit that I harbor sympathies for him. However we better not identify with him. We shouldn't romanticize shameful actions and what's more: He stands for the people who run away from God and then find their way back. That's not us. Most of us haven't run away from God. Within Jesus' story we are not the younger but the older son. Listen to his side of the story.
"The older son had been out in the field. but when he came near the house, he heard the music and dancing. So he called one of the servants over and asked: 'What's going on here?' The servant answered: 'Your brother has come home safe and sound, and your father ordered us to kill the best calf.' The older brother got so angry that he wouldn't even go into the house."