Summary: The Parable of the Prodigal is not really about the younger son; Jesus told it to illustrate what God is like, not what sinners are like.
Fourth Sunday in Lent — March 21, 2004
Christ Lutheran Church, Columbia, MD
Pastor Jeff Samelson
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
What Is God Like?
W ________ (Waiting)
1. recklessly extravagant, spendthrift
2. giving or producing something in large amounts; lavish; luxuriant
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Word of God for our study this Sunday is our Gospel for the day, Luke 15:1-3, 11-32, as already read:
[ Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering round to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.”
Then Jesus told them this parable: …
Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (NIV)
This is the Gospel of our Lord. ]
Dear Sons and Daughters of Our Heavenly Father:
The parable we just read is commonly called “The Parable of the Prodigal Son”. That’s not very good name for it, or at least it’s not very accurate. Look at the definition of “prodigal” that I included in your bulletin: “recklessly extravagant”. Now, yes, that fits the younger son and what he did, but the story is about a lot more than that. There’s another reckless extravagance at work here. The real prodigal in this parable is not the younger son.
And that makes sense — because what Jesus wanted to illustrate for the Pharisees and teachers of the law was not what sinners are like, but what God is like.
Not that the Pharisees and teachers of the law were asking what God was like, of course — they assumed they knew everything already. But their attitude toward Jesus — and especially toward the “sinners” he welcomed and ate with — showed that their understanding of God was woefully inadequate. They really didn’t know God at all, and their relationship with him was broken, although they thought they were his favorites.