June 20, 2021 A+D
St. Luke 15: 1-31
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The tax collectors and sinners drew near in order to hear Jesus. The Pharisees and the scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” Jesus responds with three parables. In the first He likens tax-collectors and sinners to sheep, in the second to a coin, and in the final to a son. The point is that Jesus seeks the lost. He has come to save the unsavory. All are lost because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but that doesn’t stop Christ from seeking them and offering them forgiveness. God does find not tax-collectors and sinners, He finds His sheep, His coins, and His sons mingling with pigs, covered in mud. He finds us starving and desperate for the worthless pods that Satan feeds to his demons. He comes to bring us to our senses, promising that He will take all the abuse and punishment for us. He welcomes sinners home as valued members of His family. The father’s statement is a summary of all three parables “Your brother was dead and is alive; he was lost and is found.” This is the essence of our faith: Jesus saves sinners.
The parable of the prodigal son is the richest of the three. To rightly understand it we need to see ourselves as all three main characters, as both sons and as the father.
We are rightly and well accustomed to seeing ourselves as the rebellious son who repents and finds himself graciously welcomed back to the family. We are unashamed in the Church to identify with tax collectors and sinners. In some sense, the prodigal is the hero of the story. He is God’s beloved child for whom He sacrifices His only begotten Son.
We have also learned to see ourselves as the older brother. We are in the Church, not in the pig pen. We are not wasting our lives and our Father’s goods with prostitutes. We are striving in faith to be faithful to God’s Law and promises. In this, there is a temptation to become jealous of others, who seem to be having or have had more fun than us. The older brother in the parable isn’t upset that his father loves the prodigal son, he is upset that he doesn’t get to have a party with his friends. It isn’t just that he expected a reward. It is who he wants to celebrate with. He wants to celebrate and enjoy the things of creation with the world, not with his family. He is not working for the sake of love, but with an eye toward gain. In a similar way, we are tempted to look at the sad, excessive lives of rock stars and celebrities and be jealous of their wealth, luxuries, and fame and we barely notice how sad and unhappy they are. Repent. This is simply lust for things that don’t satisfy.
We are less accustomed to actively and consciously considering how we are also like the Father, but we are. We have been restored to His image and we are called to live in forgiveness, being forgiven and also forgiving one another. Our forgiveness doesn’t grant salvation, but it is real and it is effective. It matters. But even as there is danger in being the prodigal son who doesn’t actually repent or in being the older son who remains in his temper tantrum and self-righteousness, there are also ways to wrongly act the part of the father.
We rightly act the part of the father when we do not give up hope for our wayward adult children or loved ones. We are acting the part rightly when we plead with God in prayer to remember their Baptisms, when we cling to the central reality of Christianity that Christ receives and eats with sinners, and are eager to welcome back and fully forgive the repentant. But we are not acting in accordance with Our Father’s character when we pretend as though those living in open sin are not in danger or that their behavior is not a reflection of their beliefs or that they are saved apart from faith. We wrongly usurp God’s right to forgive when we declare that no one we love can go to Hell and we deny the Word of God where it has become inconvenient.
Jesus, Himself, is the Savior, not us. He seeks out His lost sheep and searches until He finds His lost coin. He gives away His inheritance and welcomes back the penitent with joy. He calls and makes mere men, even Tax Collectors and Gentiles, His sons and daughters. We were dead and are now alive. We were lost and are found. He remembers His promises and we are firmly in His hands.
Come to the Supper. Leave death and pride behind. Hand those you love over to God in prayer. He loves them more than you do. Come to the Supper. Christ has bought us and invites us. Here is how we celebrate and unite as a family.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.